BAGHDAD – At day-break on a warm desert morning in Baghdad, nearly 1,000 Soldiers joined together to remember one of their own in a moving tribute run.
Six years after Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith of Tampa, Fla., lost his life defending more than 100 troops, Soldiers of 46th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), 225th Engineer Brigade, held a run in honor of his memory, April 5.
The distance, 11.46km, stood as a tribute to Smith’s unit and comrades.
The actual battle site served as the starting and ending point for the racers. Casually listening, one could not help but over hear Soldiers use a powerful word to describe their comrade: hero.
1st Sgt. David Roman of Holland Patent, N.Y., met Smith in 2000 when they served as platoon sergeants of A and B Company, 11th Engineers. He was amazed at the personal interest Smith took in each of his Soldiers.
“If you ever stopped and talked to any of his Soldiers when he was a platoon sergeant, there’s nothing but great things [said],” Roman explained. “How they respected him, how he took care in order to sit down with them and talk to them on a personal basis as well as professional.”
Roman explained Smith lived the Army Values daily.
“He was an awesome fellow NCO. He really went out of his way and took the extra mile to take care of his Soldiers on and off duty.”
Roman arrived at the April 4, 2003 battle, after his friend had been mortally wounded, to assist in securing the area. Roman said Smith manned a .50 caliber machine gun after the gunner was wounded, effectively killing 25-50 enemy combatants of the estimated 100 attacking the courtyard by the highway between Baghdad International Airport and Baghdad itself.
His actions deescalated the attack and saved reportedly up to 100 Soldiers. What remains are the bullet holes in the watch tower and the memory of a Soldier that stood for other Soldiers, including the more than 4,200 service members that have died during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I was amazed after five years at how much this area has changed with the build up of troops,” said Roman. “So I wanted to find the area this engagement took place and see if anyone had done a memorial. To my astonishment, there was nothing there.”
On the sixth anniversary of his death, Soldiers placed a memorial marker in honor of the fallen Smith on the concrete wall, littered with bullet holes, he defended during the fight.
“In my opinion you can’t do enough for Sgt. [1st Class] Smith for what’s he’s done for our country and our warriors here,” expressed Roman.