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Paul Ray Smith
SFC Smith during opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Born (1969-09-24)September 24, 1969
Died April 4, 2003(2003-04-04) (aged 33)
Place of birth El Paso, Texas
Place of death Baghdad, Iraq
Resting Place Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal United States Army
Years of service 1989 - 2003
Rank Army-USA-OR-07 Sergeant First Class
Unit 3rd Infantry Division
11th Engineer Battalion
B Company
Battles/wars Gulf War
Bosnian War
Kosovo War
Iraq War
Awards Medal of Honor ribbon Medal of Honor
Bronze Star ribbon Bronze Star
Purple Heart BAR Purple Heart

Paul Ray Smith (September 24, 1969 – April 4, 2003) was a United States Army Sergeant First Class who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom. While serving with B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, Iraq his team was attacked by a group of Iraqi fighters and after a short firefight he was killed by Iraqi fire. For his actions during this battle he was recommended and approved for the Medal of Honor. Two years later, the medal, along with the newly approved Medal of Honor flag, were presented to his family; specifically to his eleven-year-old son David, at a White House ceremony by the President of the United States George W. Bush.[1]

Early life and familyEdit

Smith was born September 24, 1969 in El Paso, Texas to Ivan Smith and Janice Pvirre but when he was nine the family moved to Tampa, Florida. As a child he attended public schools and enjoyed sports especially American football. He also liked riding skateboards and bicycles, playing pranks with his friends and younger sister Lisa. In high school he became interested in carpentry, even finding a part-time job as a carpenters assistant. He also liked to work on cars, especially old ones and enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked, even restoring a dune buggy with a friend. In 1989 he graduated from Tampa Bay Vocational Tech High School and shortly after joined the United States Army in October 1989.[2]

Military careerEdit

He was sent to Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri before being sent to Germany for his first duty station, where he joined the 9th Engineer Battalion. Later, he served during the Persian Gulf War. He deployed with B company in October 1996 as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the covering force for Operation Joint Endeavor and Operation Joint Guardian; the battalion returned to Schweinfurt in April 1997.[2] In 1999 he was posted to the 11th Engineer Battalion and deployed with them to Kosovo in May 2001, where he was responsible for daily presence patrols in the town of Gnjilane. In the spring of 2002, he received a promotion to Sergeant First Class and completed the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course in August 2002.[2]

As part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was assigned to B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division. His company was supporting the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment as it made its way through the Karbala Gap, across the Euphrates River and to Saddam International Airport (BIAP) in Baghdad. On April 4, 2003, a 100-man force was assigned to block the highway between Baghdad and the airport, about one mile east of the airport. After a brief battle, several of the Iraqis were captured. Smith spotted a walled enclosure nearby with a tower overlooking it. He and his squad set about building an impromptu enemy prisoner of war (EPW) holding area in the enclosure. Smith and 16 other men used an Armored Combat Earthmover (similar to a bulldozer) to knock a hole in the south wall of the courtyard. On the north side, there was a metal gate that Smith assigned several men to guard. These men noticed 50–100 Iraqi fighters who had taken positions in trenches just past the gate. He summoned a Bradley fighting vehicle to attack their position. Three nearby M113 Armored Personnel Carriers came to support the attack. An M113 was hit, possibly by a mortar, and all three crewmen were wounded. The Bradley, damaged and running low on ammunition, withdrew to reload during a lull in the battle. Smith organized the evacuation of the injured M113 crewmen. However, behind the courtyard was a military aid station crowded with 100 combat casualties. To protect it from being overrun, Smith chose to fight on rather than withdraw with the wounded.[3]


SFC Paul R. Smith's B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division

Meanwhile, some Iraqi fighters had taken position in the tower overlooking the courtyard, just over the west wall. The Iraqis now had the Americans in the courtyard under an intense crossfire. Smith took command of the M113 and ordered a driver to position it so that he could attack both the tower and the trenches. He manned the M113's machine gun, going through three boxes of ammunition. A separate team led by First Sergeant Tim Campbell attacked the tower from the rear, killing the Iraqis. As the battle ended, Smith's machine gun fell silent. His comrades found him slumped in the turret hatch. His armored vest was peppered with 13 bullet holes, the vest's ceramic armor inserts, both front and back, cracked in numerous places. (The M113 he was manning was not fitted with protective ACAV gun shields which had been standard since the Viet Nam war. Later in the Iraq conflict, modern gunshields were fielded.) But the fatal shot, one of the last from the tower, had entered his neck and passed through his brain, killing SFC Smith.[4] Before deploying to Iraq Smith had written to his parents, "There are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane. It doesn't matter how I come home, because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home."[5] Smith was cremated and his ashes scattered in Gulf of Mexico, where he loved to fish. He has a memorial marker in Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia and his marker can be found in memorial Section D, lot 67.[6]

At the time of his death he had served for thirteen years and for his actions during the battle, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. On April 4, 2005, exactly two years after he was killed, his eleven-year-old son David received the Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush along with the Medal of Honor flag.

SFC Smith is survived by his wife Birgit, son David, and stepdaughter Jessica.[7]

Honors and awardsEdit

Military awardsEdit

Valorous Unit Award ribbon.svg Army Superior Unit Award ribbon.svg Blank Medal of Honor ribbon.svg Bronze Star ribbon.svg
Blank Blank Blank
Purple Heart BAR.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg
Silver oakleaf-3d
Army Achievement Medal ribbon.svg
Army Good Conduct ribbon.svg
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Southwest Asia Service ribbon.svg
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary ribbon.svg Global War on Terrorism Service ribbon.svg
NCO Professional Development Ribbon.svg Army Service Ribbon.svg Army Overseas Service Ribbon.svg
NATO Kosovo Medal ribbon.png Us sa-kwlib rib.png Us kw-kwlib rib.png
Medal of Honor
Bronze Star Purple Heart Army Commendation Medal w/ four oak leaf clusters
Army Achievement Medal w/ five oak leaf clusters Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd award) National Defense Service Medal
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Southwest Asia Service Medal w/ three bronze stars Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon (2nd award) Army Service Ribbon
Army Overseas Service Ribbon (3rd award) NATO Medal for Kosovo Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait) Valorous Unit Award Superior Unit Award
German Marksmanship Badge French Armed Forces Commando Badge
Paul Ray Smith headstone

Smith's widow visiting his memorial marker in Arlington National Cemetery

Medal of Honor citationEdit

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on April 4, 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60 mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith's extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division 'Rock of the Marne,' and the United States Army.[8]

Other honorsEdit

  • The Counter Explosive Hazards Center school house in Fort Leonard Wood, MO is named in SFC Smith's honor.
  • The U.S. Post Office in Holiday, Florida, and the United States Army Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Florida have been named in his honor.[9][10]
  • New middle schools were named in honor in Holiday, Florida on August 25, 2006 as well as one in Tampa, Florida Sgt. Paul R. Smith Middle School on August 18, 2008 and in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, on April 27, 2009.[11]
  • SFC Smith is also honored in the America's Army Game with information about him and a simulation of his battle.[12]
  • Birgit Smith, SFC Smith's widow, sponsored the USS Freedom, the first Freedom class littoral combat ship, and her initials are welded on the ship's keel.[7] The couple's Saint Christopher medal and wedding bands are also embedded in the ship's mast.[13]
  • New fitness centers at Fort Benning and Fort Stewart, Georgia, as well as one in Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq are named in his honor.[14]
  • The education center at Fort Stewart is named in his honor.

See alsoEdit


  1. "Video: George W Bush 20050404_5_". George W. Bush Presidential Speech Archive. April 4, 2005. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, Medal of Honor". United States Army. August 25, 2009. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  3. Larson, Major Chuck; John McCain, General Tommy Franks (January 6, 2009). Heroes Among Us: Firsthand Accounts of Combat From America's Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan (Reprint ed.). NAL Trade. pp. 185–196. ISBN 978-0-451-22334-0. 
  4. Weinberger, Caspar W.; Wynton C. Hall (May 29, 2007). Home of the Brave. Macmillan. pp. 210–218. ISBN 978-0-7653-5703-8. 
  5. "No Greater Honor - The Atlantic (June 2, 2008)". Retrieved July 18, 2009. 
  6. "Paul Ray Smith". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved January 24, 2010. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "First Littoral Combat Ship Christened". Navy News. Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs, United States Navy. September 24, 2006. Retrieved December 6, 2006. 
  8. "Medal of Honor - Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith". Retrieved July 18, 2009. 
  9. "Public Law 108-292". Retrieved July 18, 2009.  - to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 4737 Mile Stretch Drive in Holiday, Florida, as the "Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith Post Office Building"
  10. "SFC Paul Ray Smith Simulation & Technology Training Center". Retrieved July 18, 2009. 
  11. Spc. Chris Erickson (August 30, 2006). "Florida School Named for OIF Medal of Honor recipient". DefenseLink. U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved August 31, 2006. 
  12. "Call to Duty". U.S. Army. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  13. Jones, Meg (5 November 2008). "Navy's Vessel of Versatility". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  14. "SFC Paul R. Smith Fitness Center". Fort Benning Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Retrieved March 14, 2009. [dead link]

External linksEdit

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