CPT Benedict Joseph Smith (USMA '99)
CPT Benedict Joseph Smith (USMA '99)
CPT Benedict Joseph Smith was a tall, broad-shouldered son, brother, husband, and friend, the type of man many spend an entire lifetime trying to become. His calm and witty nature, selflessness, and consistent optimism demanded the admiration and friendship of all around him. Those fortunate enough to have known him appreciated his love of family, jovial personality, incredible humility, faith, and pride for country. He was fondly nicknamed "Benny," "Big Ben," "Uncle Ben," and "Smitty"
Smitty was one of six children (brothers Leo and Sam, and sisters Sally, Mary, and Margie) born to a former Catholic nun, Kathy, and a hardworking pig farmer, Bill. Despite his great accomplishments and many friendships, Smitty’s heart always took him home to Swinky, MO. He constantly praised his family and the community that raised him, enough for four classmates to make the flight or 14-hour drive to experience this paradise. He showed off "the lake," church, friends, farm, and stages of a pig’s life. Most importantly, he always wanted to share the Smith residence, which was always warm and open to all.
At West Point, Smitty lived the typical cadet life. He worked hard in the classroom but mastered the fine art of fitting naps between times. When he was not working, sleeping, playing video games, or serving as our "right guide" during drill and parades, he enjoyed being with friends. His animation ranged from subtle to gregarious, but he never let opportunities slip by to uplift any classmate’s spirits. Many of us looked to him during times of homesickness, after receiving unwanted news, or just when we needed help remembering not to sweat the small stuff. His classmates may remember him for things like naming his rusty farm truck "Pee-Wee," or for being the godfather of Company C-3’s "Cock Wing Nights" at the Firstie Club every Tuesday. Others may remember his intelligence and tutoring, despite his busy schedule, except for Wednesday nights when he watched episodes of Charmed. At nights, somewhere in the midst of his prayers, Smitty managed to keep his friend and roommate, and the cadet company commander, calm under pressure. He was personal and professional, yet stern when circumstances required. These gifts were subtly disguised beneath his grin, piercing stare, stern handshake, or warm embrace.
Smitty celebrated branch night by wearing the aviator glasses he had been holding all night. He was ecstatic, as aviation was his dream profession. He longed to be a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot. During this difficult training, Smitty enjoyed every minute of flight time. As my best man, he said he could not wait to meet his wife, whoever she might be. Flight school united him with his future bride Maggie. Words could never express Smitty’s unrelenting love for Maggie, so he dedicated himself to proving it with actions. His weekly flowers for Maggie set the example and placed men around him in the infamous doghouse. Maggie quickly became Smitty’s every reason to wake up in the mornings and celebrate. They started their military careers together at Ft. Campbell. Both were Blackhawk aviators.
The Smiths reported to 5th Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, at Ft. Campbell, where he immediately took over a platoon in Bravo Company "Lancers" for 18 months. Smitty was an enlisted soldier prior to West Point, so he was pretty excited to return as an officer. He led his platoon through numerous local training exercises and two JRTC rotations. In October 2002, Smitty transitioned to the battalion operations office as the assistant S-3 and immediately began preparations for the battalion’s impending deployment to Iraq. Smitty deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom on 28 Feb 2003 as the primary battle captain for the 5-101 Aviation Regiment Tactical Operations Center. He flew numerous combat missions and was said by battalion commander LTC Richardson to be the "cornerstone of all battalion operations in his ability to build and put missions together."
In the ten months preceding Smitty’s final mission, he performed vital roles in combat air assaults throughout Iraq in locations such as Najaf, Al Iskandariyah, Karbala, Al Asad, and Qayyarah West, the city from which Ben departed for his final mission. On 7 Nov 2003 Smitty piloted the lead aircraft of a mission to 4th ID Headquarters in Tikrit, Iraq. Just prior to final approach, his Blackhawk helicopter was engaged by the enemy, causing it to crash just outside the city. A memorial was held on Veteran’s Day in Q-West to honor the fallen heroes. Ben’s awards and decorations include The Honorable Order of St. Michael, two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, three Air Medals, and two Army Commendation Medals, among others. He also earned the Air Assault, Airborne, and Aviator badges.
Smitty touched many hearts and left memories of laughter and friendship everywhere he went. The day of his memorial service, the residents of the towns of Swinky and Monroe City, MO, stood shoulder to shoulder, hands over their hearts or in a military salute. The line stretched along their main road with signs and flags honoring Ben. They attended the memorial service and witnessed the full military honors. They all agreed, however, that Smitty would be making fun of all the ceremonies and attention he was receiving. Smitty's nature was more laid back and ready to celebrate, even during negative moments of his life.
Through hundreds of funny recollections, Smitty was and always will be remembered. A brick was placed in the Class of ’99 section outside the USMA Association of Graduates building. He is the first and, thus far, the only ’99 graduate to make the ultimate sacrifice in OIF and OEF. The brick reads:
Ben Smith C-3 Never Forget Our OIF Hero
Proceeds from the CPT Benedict J. Smith bracelet will be donated to Legacies Alive in his memory.