It was April 2008 and Maj. Scott Smith, 56th Comptroller Squadron commander, had been on Phoenix base in Iraq for almost a year. The whole time he was there, it wasn’t uncommon for the base to get hit with indirect fire from the enemy. On this particular day, the base went into lockdown as rockets fell like rain.
After some time, all-clear was called and Smith and his wingmen returned to the gym to finish their workout. Within minutes, a 105-millimeter rocket penetrated the building and landed on a machine Smith was on just seconds before it hit.
“The good Lord was definitely looking out for us that day,” Smith said.
Smith woke from the blast, unaware of what had happened.
“I just remember coming to to the sound of screams, seeing black smoke pouring through the building, and the guy next to me was wounded,” he said.
Bombs went off in rapid succession, not giving Smith and the people around him enough time to seek shelter. Screams filled the air, and people, putting their lives at risk, rushed in to help the wounded.
“What I learned in that moment of crisis is that there are people who will rise to the occasion,” Smith said. “Some people are predisposed in the moment of crisis to answer that call, and it might not be the people you thought it would be.”
Although the “all clear” hadn’t been given, people on the outside hearing the screams rushed into the building and started pulling people out. One guy grabbed Smith and pulled him outside the building and then went back in and grabbed another guy who was wounded next to him.
In all, two Soldiers were killed and more than a dozen people were wounded in the attack.
It could have been a lot worse, Smith said.
He performed self-aid buddy care on the wounded and helped load them into a sports utility vehicle heading to the hospital. Then aftershock set in, and Smith himself was taken to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury and post-concussion.
He finished his tour, returned home and a few weeks later received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the mail. The whole experience has been humbling, he said.
“I’m extremely humbled by it in the sense that there were two individuals that did not walk out of there,” Smith said. “I don’t like to advertise it, but when I do wear the medals, I wear them for those men.”
After returning home Smith worked on getting himself back to living a normal life. He dealt with guilt and post-traumatic stress from the incident. However, with the help of his supervisors and support staff he fought back.
“For well over two months it was game on,” Smith said. “When you are faced with that kind of barrage, your body is programmed to act differently. Luckily I was blessed with supervisors who gave me the summer to reacclimatize myself.”
From his experiences downrange, Smith learned that rising to the occasion also means asking for help when you need it.
“I tell my troops that if they are ever in a situation where they need help, go get it,” Smith said. “We won’t look at it as a negative thing. I actually view it as a sign of strength, that you have that courage to stand up and go seek help.”