Soldiers honor Marne hero at Baghdad ceremony
April 8, 2010
<b>VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq </b>- More than 75 3rd Infantry Division "Dog Face" Soldiers and several additional U.S. units serving throughout Iraq, gathered in a small lot at Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, to show tribute to fallen-hero Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, April 4.
Soldiers said they came to honor the ultimate sacrifice Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith - a 3rd ID Soldier - made protecting his fellow Soldiers seven years ago on April 4.
For his actions, Sgt. 1st Class Smith was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously on April 4, 2005; he was the first such recipient for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sergeant First Class Smith was a combat engineer assigned to Company B, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd ID and his company was attached to 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Seven years ago, Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Campbell was the B Co. first sergeant, and he described that fateful day.
"At first light April 4, we arrived here. By 9 a.m., Alpha Company, 2/7, had taken prisoners and needed a place to hold those prisoners," said Command Sgt. Maj. Campbell, currently the command sergeant major of Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID. "Sergeant First Class Smith answered the call and directed that the holding area be placed here.
"As it was, this was an ideal spot to guard those prisoners ... and for the enemy to mount an attack. Around 10 a.m., they did just that. With mortars and rocket propelled grenade fire, two M113s were taken out in seconds. With the enemy controlling fire superiority, the casualties had to be extracted and the attack had to be stopped.
"The only things preventing the enemy-a company's worth of dismounted Republican Guards-(from) advancing were less than ten engineers from Bravo Company. Sergeant First Class Smith secured the site by firing AT-4s and small arms, and throwing hand grenades. Once the casualties were being moved out, he directed a Soldier to operate Bravo One-Three-a disabled M113-and move it into position where I am standing right now.
"Sergeant First Class Smith fired over four hundred rounds of ammunition into the tower behind me-the wall to my left and the gate to my right," Command Sgt. Maj. Campbell said.
"During this time, he was completely exposed to enemy fire from all directions. This allowed the casualties to be evacuated, as three engineers flanked the tower to take out the command and control element controlling the attack. In the final minutes of his attack, Sgt. 1st Class Smith was fatally shot in the head by small arms fire.
"However, his equipment showed damage and hits taken from direct-fire that lasted over 45 minutes; his devotion to duty and direct leadership are an inspiration to us all," Command Sgt. Maj. Campbell said.
Major General Tony Cucolo, the commander of Task Force Marne and 3rd ID, also spoke about the events of April 4, 2003, and of the importance of the memorial event.
"Sergeant First Class Smith was a Dog Face Soldier," Maj. Gen. Cucolo said, "One of a long line of Dog Face Soldiers that stretches back over 92 years who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. He was one of 50 other Dog Face Soldiers who performed acts so valorous, that the nation saw fit to award them the Medal of Honor."
Sergeant First Class Smith's actions tie him to a long history of Marne Soldiers standing their ground in the heat of battle.
"On the Marne River in 1918, a group of Dog Faces said to the retreating allies on their flanks and to the relentless enemy to their front, 'We will stay here,' and they did," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "On the fourth of April, 2003, Paul R. Smith spoke those same words to overwhelming odds with a .50-caliber machine gun. From his exposed position behind that weapon, with every accurate burst from the weapon, shouted, 'You all picked the wrong outfit to attack; we're staying here.'"
The memorial ceremony held an extra significance for Soldiers attending the ceremony who had served with Sgt. 1st Class Smith before or during OIF.
"This is a special moment for me because this is the first time I have been able to come to this location to commemorate his death," said Command Sgt. Maj. Byron Loyd, the command sergeant major of Division Special Troops Battalion, 3rd ID.
"I served with Sergeant First Class Smith in B Co,, 1st Engineer Battalion at Fort Riley, Kan., from 1992 through 1995."
Sergeant First Class Smith's devotion to duty and valorous actions continue to provide motivation to Soldiers who had never met him, Soldiers who served with him, and even those who were his leadership.
"I think this is important, to recognize Sergeant First Class Smith and continue to tell his story," expressed Command Sgt. Maj. Campbell. "Sergeant First Class Smith's life and actions inspire me to be a better NCO."
Even though Soldiers were aware of limiting conditions that Sergeant 1st Class Smith was forced to overcome in order to fight, physically being there brought his actions further into perspective.
"As I was looking over the wall, I was thinking about how confined the space in which the battle took place was," said Capt. Steven Jackowski, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1/3 Advisory and Assistance Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. "I am amazed at how Sgt. 1st Class Smith was able to fire upon the enemy with the .50-caliber machine gun for as long as he was. He and his Soldiers were in a precarious position with the enemy having a higher vantage point."
Seven years later, the details of the actions still remain the same and Soldiers continue to visit a small lot at Victory Base Complex in Baghdad in order to honor a sacrifice made by an NCO to defend his fellow Soldiers.