Profile of a Destiny Soldier, Pfc. Patrick Smith
July 14, 2010
Profile of an East Tennessee Soldier
by Spc. Nadia Young, D/2-17th Cavalry Regiment
101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
The decision to serve in today's military is one that is difficult at best for your typical American. The average age for your American Soldier is 20 years, not yet old enough to legally drink alcohol, but legal enough to fight and defend the American way of life. While for your average Joe, the military can at times be extremely demanding, both physically and mentally, imagine that you are beginning your life as a Soldier at 41 years of age. For one east Tennessee man, that was exactly what he did.
Patrick Smith felt the overwhelming call to serve at 41 years young and proceeded to do just that: he put his hand up with dozens of other future Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen at his servicing MEPS Station, swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Pfc. Patrick Smith took the Oath of Enlistment at Knoxville, Tenn., completed nine weeks of Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, S.C., and 28 weeks of Advanced Individual Training for the Military Occupational Specialty of 15J, Aircraft Armament, Electronic, and Avionic Systems Repairer at Fort Eustis, Va., before he was assigned to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade on Fort Campbell, Ky, with the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, working on the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Helicopter.
Obviously, the first question asked of Smith was not just about his reasoning for choosing to serve, but specifically, his timing for that choice. Smith composes himself and says very seriously, "I just wanted to serve my country. I watched the news everyday on and after 9/11, and wanted more than anything to be a part of the fight. I believe we all have a duty to stand up for our country."
Many Americans' choice to join after the age of 25 is because of job stability and benefits. Smith says that was not the case with him. "I was a self-employed construction worker, and actually did very well in my business. My family was well cared for, and our basic needs were always met or exceeded. I just had a longing for military service that wouldn't go away over the years. It's been a dream of mine since I was very small."
His father is a retired Air Force Tech. Sergeant, and says that he originally attempted to join the same branch when he was 18, but was denied due to a surgical staple that was placed in his shoulder from an injury he sustained while playing football when he was 16. He believed for more than 20 years that he would not be able to serve in the military, and found out through a friend who joined at the age of 35, that the age limit in the Army was increased to 42 years, and immediately went to the recruiter's office.
He laughs as he says, "At first, they thought I was joking. I had to convince them that I was serious about joining!"
He says that processing took him longer than most people since he had to complete the 'over 40 physical,' but that it was all smooth-sailing after that was finished. Even though the issue of his surgical staple came up when he was 18, it was no longer something that would keep him from serving his country anymore.
Originally from Townsend, Tenn., Smith and his wife of 13 years, Jacquelyn, have six children together, ranging in ages from seven up to 20 years. Adam, the eldest, is 20, Justin, 19, Warren, 15, Trentin, 12, Gracie, his only daughter, 10, and Cameron, his youngest, is seven.
When asked how his family reacted to his choice to enlist, he says that, "It was total disbelief at first; they were completely shocked. But my wife, she's just so proud of me and what I'm doing." He goes on to say tearfully, "She really holds down the fort while I'm gone. She knows that since my military family is here, she does her best to take care of our family back home. She knew that this was my biggest dream, and was happy to play a part in making my dream come true."
Despite the difference in age, Smith manages to blend in well with his peers. He stands at five feet and nine inches tall, very lean and trim and his physical appearance is neat and well-kept; the picture of how an American Soldier is 'supposed' to look. He says that while there were obvious differences in capabilities between himself and his buddies during basic training, he did his absolute best, often at times keeping the others motivated when they were having a rough day.
"I try to stay positive all the time, no matter how tough things can be. I had a lot of issues with my knees in basic, but I never went to see the doc because I was afraid of getting sent home without finishing. But when I was hurting, I just kind of hobbled around, and my buddies were all there for me. I was nervous when I took my final PT (physical training) test, but ended up doing really well. I was really proud of myself."
Asked about his MOS of 15J, he says that initially he wanted to be a medic, but his hearing did not meet the requirement for the medical field, so when his recruiter presented him the aviation side of the military, he said that it seemed very interesting and technical. There is an aviation unit near his hometown, and seeing the military aircraft always piqued his interest.
While the title of his MOS is an Aircraft Armament, Electronic, and Avionic Systems Repairer, he "knows a little about everything and a lot about nothing." He states that while he tries to delve into all aspects of his job, the most challenging part of it for him is understanding the broad spectrum of the actual aircraft, relationship between systems, troubleshooting issues with the aircraft and the general overview of the systems. He says that while his buddies all help each other with everything, individually and professionally, his leaders have really been an inspiration to him.
"I really couldn't ever pick out just one person that stands out; they've all been great. But the past few months, I've really seen a lot of really great NCOs (noncommissioned officers) who have helped me grow both personally and professionally," said Smith.
His leaders' ability to help him came up very recently when his family lost everything they own in a house fire back in April. "Everything was destroyed, but as soon as I told my leaders, they started working on it right away. They had a PayPal account set up the next day, and started putting up flyers all around the worksite. After the first month, they had raised quite a bit of money for my family. I was amazed at how much people could care about me."
He says that it was extremely difficult hearing about the fire from so far away, but never faltered because of the amount of support he was given by everyone in the unit. "I was just so thankful to God that no one was hurt. You feel so helpless from so far away because the situation is hard to assess when you're not there, so of course you worry a lot."
He goes on to say that while his children are not materialistic at all, his son was sad because his pet turtle had not made it through the fire. His son has suffered from asthma for most of his life and couldn't have a cat or a dog due to it. He was given a turtle more than four years ago that he took excellent care of, and hearing him upset about it was difficult for Smith.
"I had also given him my second field jacket before I left for Afghanistan, which he loved, and he was upset that it didn't make it, either, mostly because he is so proud that his dad is a Soldier," said Smith.
They have temporarily moved into their grandmother's home, and have received aid from several places around town, to include the Red Cross. He says that while the fire was devastating, they have always lived by a motto: "It's okay to like your stuff, but don't love it," which is what helped them make it emotionally through the fire.
Smith says that in his free time, he's with his family, "We're all homebodies, and don't really go out anywhere without each other. We like to play ball games, wrestle and watch movies together. We're just always together."
Asked about what he loves the most of each of his children individually, he says with a huge smile on his face, "Adam is a grown man now, and I love the adult conversations that we are finally able to have. Justin and I are always nit-picking at each other; we tease each other all the time, and he just has this terrific sense of humor now! Warren is getting older, and seeing his transformation from a little boy to a man has been very humbling. It just seems like yesterday that I was teaching him how to ride a bike. Trentin thinks of everybody else first, and himself last. He gives and gives more than anyone I know. Gracie, my girl, my only girl, and she is just that. Out of all my kids, she is just different; she is so feminine, but she's so tough! Cameron, my littlest one, is autistic. He is just so innocent, and his laugh, more than anything is just pure and genuine."
Since his arrival in Afghanistan, he says that being away from them was very difficult at first, but that he tries to occupy his free time as productively as possible. "I read a lot, and I do my artwork." He says that he draws a lot of fantasy and comic book artwork. He is also studying for the Soldier of the Month board which has kept him very busy. He wants to leave Afghanistan as a Specialist and become a Sergeant within the next two years.
"Being here has been exciting and fulfilling, and I want to accomplish all that I can while I'm here." He continues with his thick Tennessean accent emphatically, "I work with helicopters! I get goose bumps when I see those birds take off!"
He says that over the past two years, he has met a lot of great people, and while things have been very tough, and it is hard work, he is very proud to serve his country. "This has been a privilege to be here with these guys. I can honestly say without a doubt in my mind that this has been the best time of my life, and that I absolutely love these guys that I work and live with everyday. They make this job worthwhile, and I wouldn't be able to do it without them. You have to really want this, and this is something that I have always wanted."
When asked how long he will stay in for, he responds, "I really want to finish up my initial term, which is six years. I'm keeping an open mind on it so that I can see how my family feels about it later. That's a really big factor. To make that decision right now is premature, but that's not saying that I won't stay in the military. So far, I'm having a really good time." Smith says that he is incredibly happy to be a part of the military and right now, is just focused on improving who he is and continuing to grow within himself. He says that is the one thing he has learned since enlisting; that you can never stop growing.
Smith's co-workers and leaders genuinely enjoy working with him and say that he brings a lot to the table.
Staff Sgt. Brody Rasor, one of Smith's NCOs, says that he has been a great asset to the unit. "Smith takes on a lot more roles than just that of a maintainer. He's like our brother, and his personality is what our team needed. He comes to work with a smile on his face, and no matter what the day brings, he leaves with a smile on his face."
Smith adds that, "I try to stay as positive as possible. It's not always easy here, but I have a really good life. This is what I asked for, and I definitely got it."
Smith says he incorporates that positive attitude into all facets of his life. He says that as a civilian, his life was always moving fast. The military allowed him to slow down just a bit and really showed him that there was much more to it than what he ever knew. He also appreciates everything he has much more than before.
For a dream he believed was completely lost, serving his country "has been a surreal experience, and he now understands what it means when people say that we weren't just born free; somebody fought and died for freedom so that we could have it."