By Katie Lange, DoD News, Defense Media ActivityFebruary 1, 2017
Many U.S. service members have shown valor during the past 15 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first of those heroes was 34-year-old Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith.
Smith, of Tampa, Florida, joined the Army right out of high school in 1989. Over the course of his 13-year career, the combat engineer served on many fronts, including Desert Storm, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During his final deployment, Smith was stationed in Iraq as a platoon sergeant in Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division. On April 4, 2003, he and about 100 other soldiers were working to build a temporary jail for prisoners at a small courtyard near the Baghdad International Airport when his task force was attacked by about 100 members of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.
Smith quickly rallied his men to create the best defense they could, which consisted of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley fighting vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. The platoon was pinned down in the courtyard by enemy fire from a nearby watchtower and was in danger of being overrun.
Smith fought hard, throwing hand grenades and firing anti-tank weapons to slow the enemy. He also evacuated three soldiers who had been wounded when their vehicle was hit by enemy rounds.
Smith then ran to a damaged armored vehicle, where he manned a .50-caliber machine gun that was exposed to enemy fire. He fired more than 300 rounds at the enemy, killing up to 50 of them and leading to their retreat. Unfortunately, near the end of the battle, Smith was shot in the head and killed.
Because of his selfless sacrifice, Smith saved the lives of about 100 U.S. soldiers that day.
Five days later, Baghdad fell, and the Iraqi people were liberated.
Two years after his death, Smith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, as well as the first Medal of Honor flag authorized by Congress. His wife, son and daughter accepted it on his behalf.
"We count ourselves blessed to have soldiers like Sergeant Smith, who put their lives on the line to advance the cause of freedom and protect the American people," President George W. Bush said at the ceremony.
Smith also earned the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and the Purple Heart, among many other honors.
Three other men who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom -- Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, Army Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, and Marine Corps Cpl. Jason L. Dunham -- have earned the Medal of Honor. All of those awards were awarded posthumously.