TIMOTHY MICHAEL SMITH
Sept. 20, 1982 to April 7, 2008
Stop-Loss orders suspend discharges so that experienced members of the military can continue to serve at a time of national crisis. Hollywood made a movie about it. The reality ordered Sergeant Timothy Michael Smith back to duty last year. He died April 7th when his Humvee struck an improvised explosive device in the streets of Baghdad. He was 25 years old.
Known to family and friends in his hometown of South Lake Tahoe as “Timmy,” the newly-married sergeant had already served one tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006 and should have been released from the Army last November. Instead, he was redeployed to Iraq as part of the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“He was pretty gung-ho about going to Afghanistan,” said his younger brother, Tommy Smith, 23, of Lake Tahoe. But Tim’s attitude changed after he married his wife, Shayna Richard-Smith, on July 4, 2007, his brother said. “He had a family to come back to, a wife and a son to come home to.”
Tim’s father, Mike Smith, 50, of Reno, said the stop-loss policy had frustrated the Smith family—despite the tremendous pride they felt in their son’s service. “He should have been out,” a devastated Smith told a local paper shortly after hearing of his son’s death. “That was his feeling, that he had done his duty.”
Mike Herron, Tim’s former T-ball coach, expressed similar anger over the Army’s stop-loss policy. “I know that the main thing he wanted to do was to work for his country,” Herron said of the freckle-faced kid he had watched grow up. Tim felt he had done that in Afghanistan, his childhood coach said. “He should have been home.”
Tribute by Senator Harry Reid
As of last September, according to The Associated Press, approximately 10,000 soldiers were being held beyond their initial contracts and ordered to remain on active duty. The stop-loss policy and the terrible strain it places on service members and their families, not to mention the toll it takes on human life, is decried by anti-war advocates like Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D), who paid tribute to Sergeant Smith on the floor of the U.S. Senate on April 14.
“Tim graduated in 2001 from South Tahoe High School and joined the Army in April 2004,” said Reid, who personally called and talked to each member of the family, including Tim’s mother, Patricia, and his 23-year-old widow, Shayna. “He is remembered by all as having a special sense of humor, for making people laugh and for his warmth. …He was also determined, courageous and caring.”
Brothers in arms
Reid, who serves as Senate Majority Leader, was especially moved by the relationship between Smith and Sergeant Brandon Lords, who was among those who came to Tim’s aid after he was critically injured in the roadside bomb attack. “Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Lords were brothers in arms, and they had made a pact. If one was lost in combat, the other would escort his body home.” Such commitment, the senator said, “is emblematic of the courageous young men and women who serve in the United States military.”
On April 14th—the same day Reid spoke on the Senate floor—Sergeant Lords honored his promise to accompany his fallen comrade’s flag-draped coffin to South Lake Tahoe. Friends and strangers alike lined the streets from the Lake Tahoe Airport to the McFarlane Mortuary to welcome their hero home. Escorted by the Patriot Guard, the hearse carrying Tim’s body was followed by members of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, California Highway Patrol, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Tahoe Douglas Fire Department. Red, white and blue signs reading, “We will never forget” and “Timmy Smith is a hero” were scattered amidst the crowd, many tearful and waving American flags.
Such a happy kid
One thing for sure, Tim Smith made a lasting impression on everyone he knew. “I’ll always remember his bright red hair,” said Teresa Ortiz, whose son was a longtime friend of Smith’s. “He was such a happy kid. That smile walked into a room before he did.”
Boisterous, with an infectious laugh and the stubbornness associated with red hair, Tim was a rambunctious youngster growing up, he and his younger brother Tommy inseparable, many said. They were “tricksters…double trouble,” said Birgit Lukins, a former teacher’s assistant who knew the brothers at both Tahoe Valley Elementary School and the high school where she is now an attendance worker.
Over the moon about being a father
Tim’s wife, Shayna Richard-Smith, saw a different side, a man who loved to cook for her, adored his family and was over the moon about adopting Shayna’s 22-month-old son, Riley. Tim “would come home and wouldn’t even take his boots off” before playing with his son, she said. After Tim was deployed to Iraq in November, he emailed or phoned his wife nearly every day about their future. He wanted to move to Los Angeles, join the police department and have another baby.
Married less than a year, Shayna paints a heartbreaking image of learning of Tim’s death. Two Fort Polk servicemen, dispatched to break the news in person, repeated it to Riley. “The servicemen [knelt] down at my son’s crib and said: ‘On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, we would regretfully like to inform you that your daddy was killed in Iraq.’ “As much as you think that you prepare yourself,” Shayna told the Tahoe Daily Tribune not long after, “you can never, ever prepare yourself for something like this.”
You’ve got the wrong one!
Tim’s mother, Patricia Smith, mistook the two Army officers who came to her door in South Lake Tahoe for recruiters. “I started to tell them my son’s already in the Army,” she said, still reeling in shock. Even when she heard the dreaded words—”Mrs. Smith, we regret to inform you that your son, Timothy Michael Smith, was killed in action”—she refused to believe it. “I said, ‘No, he wasn’t. He’s in a safe place. You’ve got the wrong one!'”
Patricia Smith, 53, last saw her son when he came home for Thanksgiving. “As usual, I made a dinner big enough for the entire Army,” she said. Then, just before Tim left for Iraq, he tried to offer reassurance, saying, “Mom, I’m going to be fine.”
“Little did I know that was going to be my last hug and my last kiss,” she said.
A real-life American hero
In his closing remarks to the Senate, Harry Reid called Tim Smith “a hero—a real-life American hero—who gave his life so that others might be safe.” Honoring him on the floor of the United States Senate, he said, “is no more than a modest tribute to his sacrifice. I hope it is some small comfort to those his life and courage touched that the United States Senate and the American people share in the pain of their grief and the burden of their sacrifice.”
Tim is survived by his wife, Shayna, son Riley, his parents, Patricia and Michael, his brother, Tom and a sister, Jackie, 21, also of South Lake Tahoe. [KBL]