FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – A Soldier from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) received the Army's third-highest award for valor during a ceremony, April 22, for his actions in August 2008 while on a recovery mission in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sgt. 1st Class John I. Smith, Jr., 3rd platoon sergeant with Troop C, 1st Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment, received the Silver Star Medal for gallantry when he refused treatment for his own wounds, ran through enemy fire, eliminated two Anti-Coalition Militants and saved the life of a teammate.
"I saw one of our own Soldiers get hit and I would not stop, no matter what the cost, to get him out of harm's way," said Smith. "That is what we Soldiers do. The Warrior Ethos states 'I will never leave a fallen Comrade'."
Smith, serving as a Dismounted Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant, led his Soldiers to an objective, Aug. 16, to conduct a quick reaction force mission to aid an Afghan National Police station that was in danger of being overrun in Paktya Province, Afghanistan.
"As we approached the scene, we heard the gun fire taking place and Smith immediately drove his truck up the hill to get a better picture of what was going on," said Capt. Kevin Bell, the platoon leader for 3rd platoon.
After the QRF team arrived at the scene, they secured the area and began to treat the Afghan wounded. At that point, the enemy resisted, firing rocket propelled grenades, machine gun fire with armor piercing rounds and AK-47 small-arms fire.
Once fire superiority was gained, a lull in the fighting allowed Smith and his teammates to thoroughly examine the situation.
We had the enemy fire suppressed and Smith and a few guys went to check on a casualty, said Bell.
"As one of that team's Soldiers was inspecting what we thought was a wounded ANP," said Bell. "He was hit with a grenade and small-arms fire."
The Soldier was wounded, stranded and in need of immediate aid.
"The enemy had a machine gun team approximately 250 meters away engaging our element and they had an additional two-enemy-combatant team pinned down in a ditch approximately 10 meters away from the location of the wounded American Soldier, who was lying in the open dirt road," said Smith.
Without hesitation, he refused treatment for his own wounds, gathered a two-man-medic team and led them through incoming grenades and enemy fire as they crossed open ground and reached the Soldier.
"I had to get face-to-face with the enemy to get the Soldier," said Smith. "We got into a shooting match while I was trying to evacuate the Soldier to get him medical attention."
Unable to get a clear shot, Smith threw two grenades at the enemy to ensure the threat had been defused.
"I had to silence the enemy in order to evacuate the wounded Soldier," said Smith.
Smith does not see his actions as heroic or brave, merely a culmination of training and doing the right thing.
"I don't feel like I am a hero, I was just doing my job as an Infantry Platoon Sergeant," said Smith. "I signed up to be a Soldier and few get into situations like this, but I believe that everyone in my platoon right now is willing and able to do what I did."
"All my years in the Army prepared me to do my job," said Smith. "The most important detail for me is that all my men made it out alive."
Despite his feelings about that day, those around Smith recognize his heroic effort.
He says he is not a hero, but he is definitely is a hero, said Bell. He did not hesitate or question himself; without indecision, his first thought was 'someone is wounded and in a bad situation and I have to help him'.
The example he set is what I remember most from that day, said Bell. His reaction was 'do not think about myself, but help save someone in need'.
His humble approach, discipline and commitment to doing what is right began at an early age in the Boy Scouts of America.
"We were not surprised by his actions, he is a natural born leader," said Donna Eames, Smith's mother. "As a Boy Scout he was always in the woods, it seems as though his whole life he was preparing for a situation like this."
He has been prepared for the opportunity since he was young, he has always shown discipline, said Jerry Eames, Smith's step-father. It was not an accident he was there; it was a situation where preparation met opportunity and he did what he was trained to do.
Smith wanted to be a Soldier since early childhood and has devoted his life to helping others.
"Where some kids wanted to play piano or be a musician, he wanted to be a Soldier," said Jerry Eames.
He was committed to being a Soldier by the age of six and would always help anyone he could. He has constantly bent-over-backwards to help others and would give the shirt off his back to help anyone, said Donna Eames.
His selfless service and courage is an inspiration for every Soldier throughout the ranks.
"My son is going into the Army," said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell. "I would be very, very proud if my son could serve underneath a Noncommissioned Officer like Sgt. 1st Class Smith."
We should all be proud to have the opportunity to serve with him, said Campbell.