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- The People Behind The Sacrifice
Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith
Died April 4, 2003 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
33, of Tampa, Fla.; assigned to 11th Engineer Battalion, Fort Stewart, Ga.; killed leading a counterattack against the enemy at Baghdad Airport in Iraq.
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Soldier’s son accepts Medal of Honor for dad’s valor in Iraq
By Matthew Cox
Army Times staff writer
If young David Smith was scared, he didn’t show it.
The wide-eyed, 11-year-old boy let go of his mother’s hand and stood tall as President Bush presented him with the Medal of Honor Monday for his father’s heroism in Iraq.
David took the wood-framed plaque, holding the nation’s highest award for valor, and gazed at it briefly before silently lifting his head to face the roomful of generals, lawmakers, service members and journalists in the cramped room of the White House.
His father, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, died exactly two years before he received the honor for leading a counterattack against the Iraqi Republican Guard that saved 100 of his fellow soldiers’ lives.
“The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery a president can bestow; it is given for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty,” Bush said in a speech before presenting the prestigious award.
Smith, 33, was a platoon sergeant with Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
On April 4, 2003, Smith was setting up a temporary enemy prisoner of war holding area during the seizure of Saddam International Airport when his unit came under attack.
Smith kept his soldiers focused during the fight while engaging the Iraqi force of around 100 men with his M16, a hand grenade and an AT4 anti-armor weapon.
At one point in the battle, Smith manned a .50 caliber machinegun in the exposed turret of a damaged M113 armored personnel carrier and began firing at the main force of the enemy.
He fired about 400 rounds, giving his soldiers time to regroup and mount an attack of their own.
When the shooting stopped, the Iraqi force had been defeated, but not before Smith had suffered an enemy bullet to the head.
Smith is the first Medal of Honor recipient since the two medals awarded to Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, who died during the battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 3, 1993.
“On this day, two years ago, Sergeant Smith gave his all for his men. Five days later Baghdad fell, and the Iraqi people were liberated,” Bush said. “Today we bestow on Sergeant Smith the first Medal of Honor in the war on terrorism. We count ourselves blessed that we have soldiers like Sergeant Smith.”
Smith is also the first to be awarded the new Medal of Honor Flag, recently authorized by Congress.
In addition to David, Smith’s wife, Birgit, and his 18-year-old daughter, Jessica, also stood on the small stage to accept the award.
Following the ceremony, Birgit told reporters it wasn’t hard to make the decision to have David accept the honor for his father.
“He is now the man in our household, so David deserves to have this Medal of Honor,” she said.
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Medal of Honor recipient enshrined at Pentagon
A day after being honored at the White House, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith posthumously took his place in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, where his German-born wife said his actions have inspired her to seek American citizenship.
Smith received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for combat actions near Baghdad airport on April 4, 2003. A combat engineer, he was mortally wounded while manning a .50-caliber machine gun on a disabled vehicle, killing an estimated 20 to 50 enemy fighters and allowing the evacuation of numerous wounded Americans.
During a ceremony April 4, President Bush presented his Medal of Honor to Smith’s wife, Birgit, and two children, Jessica, 18, and David, 11.
“My family and I continue to be overwhelmed by the American people’s appreciation of his service,” said Birgit Smith, who met her husband while he was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, in the early 1990s. They married when he returned to Germany from the 1991 Gulf War.
“I’m sure Paul would be proud to know that I have begun the process of becoming an American citizen,” Birgit Smith said at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes ceremony, attended by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior dignitaries.
She currently lives in Holiday, Fla., near Tampa, where her late husband grew up and where his parents, Donald and Janice Pvirre, still live.
“Sixty years ago, American soldiers liberated the German people from tyranny in World War II,” Smith said. “Today, another generation of American soldiers has given the Iraqi and Afghani peoples a path of freedom. This is an ideal that Paul truly believed in.”
She also thanked “all of the soldiers who influenced Paul as he advanced through his military career.”
The Pentagon Hall of Heroes contains plaques bearing the names of all the nation’s Medal of Honor recipients. Smith’s son and daughter unveiled a new plaque with the inscription “War on Terrorism,” which bears Paul Smith’s name.
In his remarks, Rumsfeld noted that President Harry Truman once told a recipient: “‘I’d rather have this medal than be president.’”
Two living Medal of Honor recipients also attended Smith’s ceremony.
“Every soldier has a story,” Birgit Smith said, sometimes striving to hold back the emotion in her voice. “Because of this award, Paul’s story of uncommon valor will forever be remembered.”
She added: “As soldiers, I encourage you to tell your stories because the American people and the world will better understand the sacrifice of Paul and others like him, one soldier story at a time.”
— Vince Crawley, Army Times staff
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Tampa soldier to be awarded posthumous Medal of Honor
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A soldier credited with saving dozens of lives by beating back an Iraqi attack before he was killed will receive the first Medal of Honor awarded since 1993, according to the officer who nominated him.
Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, 33, of the Tampa Bay area, was killed in action when his outnumbered unit was attacked by Iraqi forces at the Baghdad airport on April 4, 2003.
Lt. Col. Thomas Smith on Tuesday notified the soldier’s wife, Birgit, that President Bush would present the nation’s highest award to her and their children, Jessica, 18, and David, 10, at a White House ceremony, possibly in March.
No official announcement had been made by the Pentagon as of Wednesday.
“This is a guy whose whole life experience seemed building toward putting him in the position where he could something like this,” said Thomas Smith, who is not related to the fallen soldier. “He was demanding on his soldiers all the time and was a stickler for all the things we try to enforce. It’s just an amazing story.”
Paul Smith, with Bravo Company of the 11th Engineer Battalion from Fort Stewart, Ga., was helping build a holding pen for a growing number of prisoners when he climbed aboard an armored personnel carrier and manned its .50-caliber machine gun to cover for fellow troops.
Smith fired more than 300 rounds and the ceramic breast plate in his flak jacket was shattered as he took return fire from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
He was the only American who died in the attack.
“People know what he’s done,” Smith’s wife said. “People know that to get a Medal of Honor you have to be a special person or do something really great.”
Since the Civil War, 3,439 men and one woman have received the Medal of Honor, awarded for bravery “above and beyond the call of duty.”
It was last presented to two soldiers killed in Somalia during action described in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”
— Associated Press
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Official Citation for Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith
Baghdad Airport, April 4, 2003.
On April 4, 2003, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, attacked to seize Objective Lions, the Baghdad International Airport.
As part of the Brigade scheme of maneuver, Task Force 2-7 Infantry was tasked to establish a blocking position against a brigade-sized counterattack on the main entrance to the airfield. Task Force 2-7 had been fighting for three consecutive days and had moved through the night before reaching the blocking position. Morale was high, but Soldiers were experiencing fatigue.
B Company, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment (Knight) was in the east-most position oriented along the main avenue of approach ready for the main enemy counterattack. A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment (Rage) was attacking to the southeast of the Highway.
The main entrance to the airfield was a four-lane highway with a median to separate incoming and outgoing traffic. Large masonry walls with towers approximately 100 meters apart bound the highway. On the morning of April 4, 2003, more than 100 soldiers from the Task Force 2-7 Forward Aid Station, mortars, scouts and portions of B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion were in the median behind the forward most blocking positions. The B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion 2nd Platoon Leader was on a reconnaissance mission with the B Company, Task Force 2-7 Infantry Commander. During his absence, 2nd Platoon received the mission to construct an Enemy Prisoner of War holding area. Sgt. 1st Class Smith was in charge of 2nd Platoon.
Sgt. 1st Class Smith assessed the best location to be behind the masonry wall bounding the highway. Two guard towers along the wall were ideally situated to provide overwatch to the holding area. An M9 armored combat earthmover (ACE) knocked a hole in the wall to create an opening to a large courtyard with a louvered metal gate on the north side. With the help of a squad leader and team leader, Sgt. 1st Class Smith checked the far side of the courtyard for enemy, found none, and posted two guards. From the guard post at the gate small groupings of buildings were 100-200 meters to the northeast. To the northwest, a large white building with a white dome was visible. The location seemed perfect as the courtyard was along the northern flank of the blocking position and enemy actions to this point were mostly from the east.
While an engineer squad began to clear debris in the courtyard, one of the guards saw 10-15 enemy soldiers with small arms, 60mm mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). These were the lead elements of an organized company-sized force making a deliberate attack on the flank of Task Force 2-7.
Sgt. 1st Class Smith came to the position and identified 25-50 more soldiers moving into prepared fighting positions. Sgt. 1st Class Smith instructed a squad leader to get a nearby Bradley Fighting Vehicle for support. While waiting for the Bradley, Sgt. 1st Class Smith had members of 2nd platoon retrieve AT-4 weapons and form a skirmish line outside the gate. By this time, the number of enemy identified rose to 100 soldiers, now a confirmed company-sized attack. Three of B Company’s M113A3 armored personnel carriers (APC) oriented .50-cal. machineguns toward the opening in the wall and the surrounding guard towers, now occupied by enemy soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Smith’s actions to organize a defense against the deliberate attack were not only effective, but inspired the B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion Soldiers. He then began to lead by example. As the Bradley arrived on site and moved through the hole in the wall toward the gate, Sgt. 1st Class Smith ran to the gate wall and threw a fragmentation grenade at the enemy. He then took two Soldiers forward to join the guards and directed their engagement of the enemy with small arms. The enemy continued to fire rifles, RPGs, and 60mm mortars at the Soldiers on the street and within the courtyard. Enemy soldiers began moving along the buildings on the north side of the clearing to get into position to climb into the towers.
Sgt. 1st Class Smith called for an APC to move forward to provide additional fire support. Sgt. 1st Class Smith then fired an AT-4 at the enemy while directing his fire team assembled near the front line of the engagement area.
Running low on ammunition and having taken RPG hits, the Bradley withdrew to reload. The lead APC in the area received a direct hit from a mortar, wounding the three occupants. The enemy attack was at its strongest point and every action counted. Not only were the wounded Soldiers threatened but also more than 100 Soldiers from B Company, the Task Force Aid Station, and the Mortar Platoon were at risk.
Sgt. 1st Class Smith ordered one of his Soldiers to back the damaged APC back into the courtyard after the wounded men had been evacuated. Knowing the APC’s .50-cal. machinegun was the largest weapon between the enemy and the friendly position, Sgt. 1st Class Smith immediately assumed the track commander’s position behind the weapon, and told a soldier who accompanied him to “feed me ammunition whenever you hear the gun get quiet.”
Sgt. 1st Class Smith fired on the advancing enemy from the unprotected position atop the APC and expended at least three boxes of ammunition before being mortally wounded by enemy fire.
The enemy attack was defeated. Sgt. 1st Class Smith’s actions saved the lives of at least 100 Soldiers, caused the failure of a deliberate enemy attack hours after 1st Brigade seized the Baghdad Airport, and resulted in an estimated 20-50 enemy soldiers killed. His actions inspired his platoon, his Company, the 11th Engineer Battalion and Task Force 2-7 Infantry.
Sgt. 1st Class Smith’s actions to lead Soldiers in direct contact with a numerically superior enemy — to personally engage the enemy with a fragmentation grenade, AT-4, and individual weapon, to ultimately assume the track commander’s position to fire the .50-cal. machinegun through at least three boxes of ammunition before being mortally wounded — demonstrates conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
His actions prevented a penetration in the Task Force 2-7 sector, defended the aid station, mortars, and scouts, and allowed the evacuation of Soldiers wounded by indirect enemy fire.
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Smith had a plan, and completed his missions
Like any good military man, Paul Smith had a plan: become a professional soldier and have a family.
He completed both missions long before he was killed in action April 4 at age 33.
Smith, a 14-year Army veteran and father of two, enlisted shortly after graduating from Tampa Bay Technical High School in 1989. Within a year, he was in the Gulf, serving in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Later, he went to another of the world’s hot spots, Bosnia.
“He had his life mapped out since he was 18,” his stepfather, Donald Pvirre, told The Tampa Tribune. “That’s what he wanted to do.”
He did it well. Pvirre said Smith had “earned medals from all over.”
“He did not die in vain, and we know that,” Smith’s sister, Lisa DeVane of South Georgia, said in a statement released by the family.
“Paul died serving his country with pride, honor and integrity, and believing in the just cause of this war,” she said. “Our nation was fortunate to have him as a soldier. We as a family were blessed to have him as a son, brother, husband, father and uncle. He will be missed greatly.
“Paul made it clear that it was privilege for him to lead 25 of America’s finest soldiers into war, and he was prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure their safe return, and he did.”
Smith is survived by his wife, Brigit, and two children, Jessica and David.
— USA Today and The Associated Press