On Patrol

Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

A hit-and-run driver robbed Staff Sgt. Michael Smith of his arm and nearly his life, but failed to impact his single-minded determination.

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Smith prepares to cycle in the Warrior Games Trials at West Point, N.Y., in June 2014. Smith qualified for cycling, but opted to compete in swimming and track and field at the Warrior Games in Colorado next month. Courtesy photo Army Staff Sgt. Michael Smith prepares to cycle in the Warrior Games Trials at West Point, N.Y., in June 2014. Smith qualified for cycling, but opted to compete in swimming and track and field at the Warrior Games in Colorado next month. Courtesy photo “My commitment was to staying in the Army for 20 [years],” Smith said. “There was no way I was going to be shortchanged due to someone else’s negligence.”

After two years of intense rehabilitation and training at Brooke Army Medical Center, Smith’s persistence paid off. An above-the-elbow amputee, Smith met every standard and was approved earlier this month to return to duty as a career soldier.

“I’m very excited about what the future holds,” the 15-year veteran said. “With or without my injury, I want my daughter to know what true commitment looks like.”

Commitment never wavered

In the years since his accident, Smith’s commitment has never wavered.

A recruiter in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time, Smith was riding his motorcycle when a texting driver slammed into him from behind. He flew over the guardrail and was then hit midair by a driver coming from the opposite direction.

“I was knocked unconscious on impact, and when I woke up I was lying on the highway,” Smith recalled. “My boots and helmet had come off, and my arm was hanging on by the skin inside my jacket sleeve.”

Smith tried to move off the road but was unable. The texting driver had driven off but the second driver, a Navy corpsman, rushed over and tended to his wounds until the ambulance arrived. In the coming months, Smith underwent six surgeries due to infection, which eventually claimed most of his right arm.

Miraculous turnaround and rehabilitation

Not long afterward, Smith had another brush with death when he suffered kidney failure. His father drove up from Amarillo, Texas, he said, and sat by his bedside praying for hours.

“The next couple of days, I made a miraculous turnaround,” Smith recalled.

Facing a long rehabilitation and based on a recommendation from his cousin, who works at Brooke Army Medical Center here, Smith requested to be assigned to BAMC’s Warrior Transition Battalion.

A week-and-a-half later, he arrived at the Center for the Intrepid, BAMC’s outpatient rehabilitation center. Smith’s goal was to return to active duty, but he knew he was facing an uphill battle.

“I spoke to the CFI staff and they pushed me to do everything,” he said. “I knew I had to prove I could do just as much if not more than anyone else.”

Focusing on sports

With this goal in mind, the former high school athlete dove into every sport possible. He mastered shooting firearms. He ran Spartan races, Tough Mudders, and half-marathons. Tough Mudders are 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses designed to test strength, stamina and teamwork skills.

Smith also went rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding. He swam, cycled and took part in track and field. He joined soccer, basketball and kickball leagues.

Earlier this month, Smith nervously appeared before the Physical Evaluation Board. Yet he felt confident they’d approve his request to remain in the Army. He was thrilled when they declared him fit for active duty.

“I’ve been committed to the Army my entire adult life,” he said. “I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to continue to serve.”

Return to duty, promotion

Smith, who is slated to be promoted to sergeant first class this week, hopes to resume his prior career in field artillery.

“I just want to be a regular soldier, go to combat if needed,” he said. “I honestly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do now, thanks to the support from my family, friends and the staff at the CFI who were with me every step of the way.”

As he awaits orders, Smith is filling his time with his other passion: sports. He’s slated to represent the Army in track and field and swimming at the Warrior Games next month, and continues to cycle daily in hopes of making the 2016 Paralympic team.

Motivating others

Smith said he believes to this day that he lost his arm for a reason.

“I would like to inspire and motivate others struggling with mental or physical challenges,” he said. “No one should let their injury determine who they are or who they want to be.”

Watching Out For You

August 25, 2014, 6:01PM

U.S. Army Spc. Jon Sweatt provides security during evening hours in Morghan Kachah village in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney HoustonU.S. Army Spc. Jon Sweatt provides security during evening hours in Morghan Kachah village in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston

Roosevelt Readiness

August 21, 2014, 7:21PM

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt launches a rolling airframe missile in the Atlantic Ocean. The test focused on its combat readiness and its ability to defend against anti-ship cruise missiles and other asymmetric threats. U.S. Navy photoThe aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt launches a rolling airframe missile in the Atlantic Ocean. The test focused on its combat readiness and its ability to defend against anti-ship cruise missiles and other asymmetric threats. U.S. Navy photo

Cycle polo? What in the world is cycle polo? That's a thing? These are questions Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan MacPherson, a 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron Fuels Management Flight fuels service center controller, is accustomed to hearing.

A passionate competitor in the sport, MacPherson said he is happy to explain.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan MacPherson jockeys for the ball with Zachari Tate during a cycle polo game last month in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Wes Wright Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan MacPherson jockeys for the ball with Zachari Tate during a cycle polo game last month in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Wes Wright However, what the Hoboken, New Jersey, native sometimes leaves out is the fact he has world-class talent, as demonstrated by his recent qualification to compete in the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships in Montpellier, France, this month.

Bike polo is played in more than 30 countries, and it grows in popularity each year.

MacPherson qualified to compete in the world championship after competing in the North American Hardcourt regional qualifier in July. His team was one of the top 16 qualifiers to advance to the world championship.

For some people, the word polo might conjure up images of English gentlemen on horseback wielding oversized clubs -- playing what looks to be a hybrid version of hockey and golf. That's not far off the mark, MacPherson said.

However, the game of polo has evolved and taken on many forms since the late 1800s. One of the more popular iterations of the sport is known as "hardcourt," typically played on a street hockey rink.

"The best way to describe it is three-on-three hockey," MacPherson said. "You put the ball in the middle, somebody counts down, and one person from each team sprints [to the ball] in what's called a joust, and after that, you try to put the ball in the goal."

Read more here.

Awe-Sprey

August 20, 2014, 7:05AM

An MV-22 Osprey launches from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility, on Aug. 16. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Lindahl An MV-22 Osprey launches from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility, on Aug. 16. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Lindahl

All in a Day's Work

August 18, 2014, 1:53PM

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Petrofsky uses a flashlight as he performs maintenance on the exhaust system of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Petrofsky uses a flashlight as he performs maintenance on the exhaust system of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez

Sunlit Shapes

August 15, 2014, 6:12PM

U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrea Delosreyes inspects the boom with Airmen 1st Class Christopher Morgan and Jacob Manuel before an in-air refueling mission over Iraq. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrea Delosreyes inspects the boom with Airmen 1st Class Christopher Morgan and Jacob Manuel before an in-air refueling mission over Iraq. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Over the Boardwalk

August 14, 2014, 8:44PM

Airman Austin Daniel flies with the Raiders Demonstration Team in his Yak-52 demonstration aircraft for the "Thunder Over the Boardwalk Air Show" over Atlantic City, N.J. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht Airman Austin Daniel flies with the Raiders Demonstration Team in his Yak-52 demonstration aircraft for the "Thunder Over the Boardwalk Air Show" over Atlantic City, N.J. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht

Highway Patrol

August 12, 2014, 11:54AM

U.S. soldiers provide security during a patrol along Highway 1 one in Afghanistan's Parwan province. The soldiers, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, patrolled for 12 hours. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. George Huley U.S. soldiers provide security during a patrol along Highway 1 one in Afghanistan's Parwan province. The soldiers, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, patrolled for 12 hours. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. George Huley

Hot Topics for August 12

August 12, 2014, 9:24AM |

U.S. and Australia to sign 25-year deal for Marines in Darwin (Marine Corps Times)

U.S. Said to Send 100 Air Missions Daily Over Iraq (Bloomberg)

Why F/A-18F Super Hornets dropped the first U.S. bombs in Iraq (Washington Post)

Program for homeless vets gets $300 million infusion (USA Today)

Vets everywhere can log on to virtual job fair (Military Times)

High-Wire Act

August 11, 2014, 6:34PM

Marines participate in recruiting commercials in Southern California, July 31, 2014. Crews filmed the Marines on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jericho W. Crutcher Marines participate in recruiting commercials in Southern California, July 31, 2014. Crews filmed the Marines on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jericho W. Crutcher

U.S. air operations in Iraq reflect a commitment to relieving the humanitarian issue in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region and to protecting American personnel, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

Kirby discussed the situation in Iraq with Chris Cuomo on the CNN program “New Day.” The admiral is in New Delhi with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Two U.S. F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near the regional capital of Irbil today. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located, Kirby said in a statement earlier today. Yesterday, U.S. aircraft dropped food and water to thousands of people seeking refuge on Mount Sinjar to escape ISIL fighters.

Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby “We’re committed to two things,” Kirby told Cuomo. “One is trying to relieve the humanitarian issue there on Mount Sinjar, and of course being prepared and ready to conduct airstrikes to protect American personnel … in Irbil and potentially even in and around Baghdad.”

The airstrikes also will try to help Iraqi security forces, the admiral added, “as they go after the ISIL threat inside their country, to their people [and] to their sovereignty. Ultimately, this is an Iraqi fight.”

Throughout the country, Kirby said, the fight is not uniform.

On the humanitarian emergency for the Yezidis on Mount Sinjar, the problem is one for the international community to help in solving, the admiral said. “The international community has … responded with some humanitarian assistance, the government of Iraq provided some humanitarian assistance, [and] we're chipping in to that effort as well,” he added.

Kirby said President Barack Obama was clear in his remarks last night that the world must attend to the behavior of the ISIL terrorists.

“These ISIL terrorists are simply brutes,” the admiral said. “They're thugs. They're murderers. They have no regard for human life or human dignity. And it's not just Christians or the Yezidis they're threatening.

“We do believe they pose a threat not just to Iraq, but to the region, and they do have aspirational desires to threaten western targets, to include the United States and American citizens,” he continued. “There's no question about that. … And our focus is helping the Iraqis deal with this threat inside their country and in the broader region.”

The U.S. military focus on the region has intensified over many weeks, he said, with an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activity over Iraq, assessment teams on the ground, advisors working in joint operation centers in Baghdad and Irbil, and now conducting air operations.

“The United States is not just standing by idly,” Kirby said. “We are working very hard on this. There is a sense of purpose and urgency here. But … this is ultimately an issue the Iraqi government has got to come to grips with and solve, and the Iraqi security forces have got to continue to step up against this threat.”

Dirty Dog

August 7, 2014, 1:13PM

Cirque, a service dog for Ohio Task Force 1, goes through a decontamination procedure at the hands of his handler, Craig Veldheer, after searching for survivors during Vibrant Response at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex, Indiana. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John HealyCirque, a service dog for Ohio Task Force 1, goes through a decontamination procedure at the hands of his handler, Craig Veldheer, after searching for survivors during Vibrant Response at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex, Indiana. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Healy

Nov. 4 is Election Day and it’s approaching quickly. No matter where you are stationed, registering to vote and getting your absentee ballot is easy.

Use the State Guidelines Interactive Map here, or visit FVAP.gov, to find out how to register and get your absentee ballot. Select your state or territory of legal residence on the map to get started. Most importantly, you must print the form, sign it, and send it to your state according to your state’s rules. Online registration is not allowed.

Those who chose to vote will not have to figure out the process alone – more than 13,000 unit voting assistance officers are on the job throughout the military. Unit voting assistance officers are located in every unit, both stateside and overseas, according to FVAP director Matt Boehmer.

Statement from Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno:

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene's family, and the families of our soldiers who were injured today in the tragic events that took place in Afghanistan. These soldiers were professionals, committed to the mission. It is their service and sacrifice that define us as an Army. 

Our priority right now is to take care of the families, ensuring they have all the resources they need during this critical time.

We remain committed to our mission in Afghanistan and will continue to work with our Afghan partners to ensure the safety and security of all coalition soldiers and civilians."