Man with local ties to attend U.S. Army War College in area

Col. John Thomas Smith will temporarily be closer to home

July 09, 2010|By DAN DEARTH
  • Col. John Thomas Smith

HAGERSTOWN -- After serving two tours of duty in Iraq and losing some of his soldiers in the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, an Army colonel with Hagerstown roots is moving closer to home.

Col. John Thomas Smith said he will arrive July 18 at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., to attend the U.S. Army War College before going to his next duty station. On Friday, he relinquished command of an infantry training brigade at Fort Hood after serving as its leader for more than two years.

"I'm excited about coming back and being closer to family," Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday. "My parents live in Hagerstown and one of my brothers lives there."

Smith graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1979. Five years later, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Smith's military career has led to several assignments in the Middle East, including a stint as an artillery officer in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and two tours of duty in the more recent conflict in Iraq.


In May 2008, he assumed command of the 120th Infantry Brigade at Fort Hood. It was there on Nov. 5, 2009, where some of his men waiting to deploy overseas were shot and killed by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

Thirteen people were killed in the shootings. Hasan's trial is set to begin in October.

"It was one of those days you don't expect something like that," Smith said. "The Army chief of staff said it was a kick in the gut, and it was."

Smith said his mother, Dorothy, flew to Fort Hood to attend Friday's change-of-command ceremony. He said he intends to drive to Hagerstown shortly after he arrives in Carlisle to visit his father, Robert, and brother, David.

While growing up in Hagerstown, Smith played a few years of football at North Hagerstown High School and participated in the YMCA Swim League. He also worked as a lifeguard.

Smith said those experiences helped prepare him for West Point and other challenges that the military had to offer, such as U.S. Army Airborne and Ranger schools.

"It was a fun course," Smith said of Ranger training.

Smith said he probably will retire to Oklahoma, where his wife Michelle's family owns a private school. He said he'll probably serve at least another four years until he reaches the 30-year mark.

"I'm being considered for (brigadier general)," he said.

As for his assignment after War College, Smith said he has a good idea of where the Army will send him.

"I'll probably end up in Afghanistan, if I were a betting man," he said. "Truthfully, I haven't had one assignment I didn't enjoy."

Smith has two children, Justin, 20, and Bria, 15.

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