It still permeates vast swathes of the US military, is exemplified in the quiet but profound heroism of Medal Of Honor award winner, Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, and yet we often do not appreciate what it means and what it costs. Bob Kaplan is one of those who has noticed:
The ceremony in the East Room of the White House two years to the day after Sergeant Smith was killed, where President George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Smith’s 11-year-old son, David, was fitfully covered by the media. The Paul Ray Smith story elicited 96 media mentions for the eight week period after the medal was awarded, compared with 4,677 for the supposed abuse of the Koran at Guantánamo Bay and 5,159 for the disgraced Abu Ghraib prison guard Lynndie England, over a much longer time frame that went on for many months. In a society that obsesses over reality-TV shows, gangster and war movies, and NFL quarterbacks, an authentic hero like Sergeant Smith flickers momentarily before the public consciousness.
Smith's moment of real heroism:
Sergeant Smith was directing his platoon to lay concertina wire across the corner of a courtyard near the airport, in order to create a temporary holding area for Iraqi prisoners of war. Then he noticed Iraqi troops massing, armed with AK-47s, RPGs, and mortars. Soon, mortar fire had wounded three of his menthe crew of the platoon’s M113A3 armored personnel carrier. A hundred well-armed Iraqis were now firing on his 16-man platoon.
Sergeant Smith threw grenades and fired an AT-4, a bazooka-like anti-tank weapon. A Bradley fighting vehicle from another unit managed to hold off the Iraqis for a few minutes, but then inexplicably left (out of ammunition, it would later turn out). Sergeant Smith was now in his rights to withdraw his men from the courtyard. But he rejected that option because it would have threatened American soldiers who were manning a nearby road block and an aid station. Instead, he decided to climb atop the Vietnam-era armored personnel carrier whose crew had been wounded and man the .50- caliber machine gun himself. He asked Private Michael Seaman to go inside the vehicle, and to feed him a box of ammunition whenever the private heard the gun go silent.
Seaman, under Sergeant Smith’s direction, moved the armored personnel carrier back a few feet to widen Smith’s field of fire. Sergeant Smith was now completely exposed from the waist up, facing 100 Iraqis firing at him from three directions, including from inside a well-protected sentry post. He methodically raked them, from right to left and back. Three times his gun went silent and three times the private reloaded him, while Sergeant Smith sat exposed to withering fire. He succeeded in breaking the Iraqi attack, killing perhaps dozens of the enemy while going through 400 rounds of ammunition, before being shot in the head.
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