By Regina Taylor, 2nd Recruiting Brigade Soldier & Family Assistance Program Manager, and Kim Hanson, 2nd Recruiting Brigade Public AffairsSeptember 23, 2011
The job of a Soldier and Family Assistance program manager in Recruiting Command isn't always easy. It's complicated and challenging, often unacknowledged. Like the spouses and Families they support, SFAs tend to work behind the scenes in a Recruiting Battalion, quietly and consistently handling issues with TRICARE, managing Family programs and assisting recruiters and Families adapt to life outside a military installation.
But on Aug. 9 during annual training, recognition came in the form of a surprise meet and greet with two very special military parents - Don and Janice Pvirri, parents of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith.
The SFAs from the U.S. Army 2nd Recruiting Brigade were conducting Team Well-Being training at the Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith Education Center at Fort Stewart, Ga., when the Pvirri's stopped by the building, named and dedicated after their son. While touring the center, the Pvirri's took time to visit with the SFAs, sharing stories and photos of Smith, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the first from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The experience was so special…it brought tears to my eyes," said Sharon Blackburn, Baton Rouge Battalion SFA. "[Sgt. 1st Class Smith] made a difference."
The Pvirri's spoke of their son's love for the Army and devotion for his troops, said Blackburn. They shared one story in particular of how Smith helped the Family of one of his Soldiers during Christmas, going above and beyond to care for them.
"As a battalion SFA, I try and make a difference in our Soldiers and Families lives each and every day," Blackburn said. "Visiting with this special military Family hit home and inspired me."
Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2005 by then President George W. Bush. According to the official citation, Smith "distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003." While engaged in a firefight with a company-sized enemy force, Smith manned an exposed machine gun in order to prevent the enemy from overrunning his unit's defenses. He was mortally wounded. "His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers."
The Education Center opened on Fort Stewart, Ga., home of the Third Infantry Division which Smith was assigned to, in December 2004. It was renamed and dedicated as the Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith Army Education Center, Nov. 21, 2006. Smith's wife and son attended the ceremony, but his parents, the Pvirri's, were unable to attend. The August tour was their first visit to the facility since its dedication for their son.