Walter L. Fricke
Veterans Airlift Command
CAPTAIN Scott M. Smiley Headquarters , US Army Accessions Command,Fort Monroe, Virginia
Assignment: Individual Training Assessment Team, Army Accessions Command, Fort Monroe, Va.Personal: His wife, Tiffany, gave birth to their first baby, a son named Grady, on May 12.
By Gina Cavallaromailto:Cavallarogcavallaro@militarytimes.com
FORT MONROE, Va. – Capt. Scott Smiley says store clerks don’t always realize he’s blind until he has handed them a credit card and doesn’t extend his hand when they try to give it back.His blindness hasn’t kept him from surfing in Hawaii, skiing in Colorado, skydiving in Texas, running on post or working out at the gym.
He had been hit by improvised explosive devices and seen the devastation of car bombs, “but I’d never been faced with yelling at a guy who blows himself up,” said Smiley, 27.
When the car bomber detonated his payload just 30 yards in front of the Stryker, Smiley’s eyes were destroyed, his left frontal lobe lacerated and the right side of his body paralyzed. The total loss of his eyesight appears to be the only lasting physical effect.
That moment – and his decision not to shoot the driver – would change his life forever.
“That’s the hard thing about the war we’re fighting over there,” said Smiley, who was a platoon leader with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.
“We’re fighting civilians – all they have to do is drop their weapons and they’re a civilian again.”
The driver’s behavior – and the visibly weighed-down vehicle he was driving – raise Smiley’s suspicions. He yelled and fired two warning shots at the ground, but the driver behaved passively and even put his hands up as if surrendering.
“You can’t just shoot someone because you think he’s a bomber,” said smiley. “He could have had a bunch of metal in the back of his car; he might have been from out of town and lost.”
But he wasn’t lost – and now Smiley knows that by taking the brunt of the car bomb’s explosion, he saved the lives of other soldiers who might have been targeted down the road.
“I would have had a .50-cal blow his head off if I had known,” Smiley said, crediting his shattered Oakley M Frame ballistic glasses with saving his life.
As for his continued good fortune, Smiley credits a higher source.
“I definitely believe God has been with me and blessed me beyond words. It’s not a normal thing for a totally blind soldier to serve and to keep giving back to the Army,” Smiley said.
Lt. Gen. Robert VanAntwerp, who nominated Smiley for Army Times Soldier of the Year, said of the captain, “There’s no ‘say no’ in him. He wants to do it all. He’s not daunted by the challenge. He loves soldiering,” he said.
VanAntwerp paved the way for Smiley to spend a year with the Individual Training Assessment Team at U.S. Army Accessions Command, Fort Monroe, Va. There, he used a special computer and audio equipment he acquired through the Tricare system to do his work.
During his time at Accessions Command, he traveled around the Army to talk to both healthy and wounded soldiers about honor, duty service to country, and the value of staying in the Army to contribute hard-earned expertise. He, his wife Tiffany and their new baby, Grady, have since moved to North Carolina, where Smiley will pursue a master’s degree in business administration from Duke University.
“He’s an example for all soldiers. He has stepped up to make sure others don’t fall behind,” said Col. Mary Carstensen, director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program. Carstensen said Smiley is one of only 39 severely wounded soldiers who continue to serve on active duty.
“He challenges soldiers to stretch themselves and establish goals,” she said.
His friends and family say Smiley’s faith in God and lifelong determination have kept him steady.
Some call him a “stud” whose blindness “hasn’t changed him in any way but to make him better.”
“He’s always been a strong kid, a man of character. He’s my younger brother, but a brother I look up to in many ways,” said Capt. Neal Smiley, a Special Forces soldier serving overseas.
After Duke University, the family will move to West Point, where Smiley will teach management and the philosophy of military leadership.
While deployed in Mosul , Iraq leading his platoon of Stryker soldiers, Captain Scott Smiley attempted to slow down a suspicious vehicle as an effort to protect his platoon. Unfortunately, it did not stop. Captain Smiley was hit by shrapnel in the face when the suicide bomber detonated, causing a brain injury and permanent blindness. Although Captain Smiley almost lost his life, it did not affect his spirit as he has continues to live his life by his faith and not by his sight.
Everyone believed his career was over since a blind person cannot serve in the military. Yet, Captain Smiley felt he still owed back – for his education at West Point and his service obligation, and that he could still make a contribution. He spent a long time recovering, yet Captain Smiley inspired everyone else he came into contact with. His senior leaders state that “his faith, drive, and bravery are inspirational”, and that “he knows what it takes to overcome adversity. And, no one does it more effectively.”
Captain Smiley refused to give up on his strong desire to return to full active duty, and was assigned to the US Army Accessions Command under the Wounded Warriors Program. He is 1 of 39 severely-wounded soldiers serving on active duty and he serves as an advocate for this program, advising them on Army resources that assist those who are wounded with their lives and still want to serve.
Captain Smiley travels across the country to various military training centers and schools, providing his expertise on enemy tactics and advising military personnel on current training needs for soldiers deploying to current war zones. He has led an effort to rewrite training and doctrine regulations that have been completely vetted by brigade commanders and their sergeants major, and it has been touted as the best revision anyone has seen in the past.
This past summer Coach Mike Krzyzewski invited him to talk to the US National Basketball team as they prepared for the World Championships, motivating them with the same message of courage and faith he shares with hundreds of service members he has encountered since his injury. Captain Smiley’s efforts play a major role in the Army’s Strategic Outreach Program, reaching into the public arena as he shares the Army story, one of concern and compassion, in national, regional and local media.
Captain Smiley finds no obstacles to living life and musters the courage to do it every day – walking to work by memorizing the number of steps and the directions to turn, enjoying any physical activity (running, cycling, surfing, sky diving, and snow skiing) and just earlier this week, he climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington, proving that he is truly “ARMY STRONG”. His senior officer said, “Scotty embodies the Army Values and demonstrates them in principle and practice every day.” “He inspires you to be more than you though you could be, just by him being himself,” says another.
A native of Pasco , Washington , Captain Smiley and his wife Tiffany, have a newborn son, Grady Douglas. They have recently moved to Durham , North Carolina , for Captain Smiley to attend graduate school at Duke University , with a follow-on assignment as a faculty member at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the Leadership Department. Please join all of our readers as we salute Captain Scott M. Smiley as this year’s Army Times Soldier of the Year.