News>Air Force to present Silver Star to fallen Airman’s family Sept. 8
Senior Airmen Mike Malarsie and Bradley Smith pose for a photo during their Afghanistan deployment. An improvised explosive device attack mortally wounded Airman Smith and injured Airman Malarsie Jan. 3, in Afghanistan. The two tactical airlift control party Airmen were assigned to the 10th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Riley, Kan. (Courtesy photo)
Senior Airman Bradley Smith spent only a few weeks with his new daughter, Chloe, before deploying to Afghanistan where just months later he was killed by an IED during a firefight. As a Tactical Air Control Party member, or TACP, Brad was part of a two-man team assigned to support a 13-man Army platoon and was trained to call in close air support should the men come under fire and need the battlefield neutralized from above. He was killed Jan. 3, 2010 and on Sept. 8, 2012 the Air Force will present the Silver Star to his widow, Tiffany, and parents, Gary and Paula Smith of Troy, Ill.
Just days away from what would have been Senior Airman Bradley R. Smith's 27th birthday, the Air Force will present the Silver Star to his widow and parents during a ceremony in the Tri Township Park in Troy, Ill., Sept. 8, 2012, at 8 a.m. (courtesy photo)
by Karen Petitt
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
9/4/2012 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Just days away from what would have been Senior Airman Bradley R. Smith's 27th birthday, the Air Force will present the Silver Star to his widow and parents during a ceremony in the Tri Township Park in Troy, Ill., Sept. 8 at 8 a.m.
Brad, who was born Sept. 11, 1985, was just 24 when he was killed in Afghanistan while on patrol, doing what his parents, Gary and Paula Smith, said was "what he had to do ... what he was taught to do ... and what he thought was the right thing to do."
As a Tactical Air Control Party member, or TACP, Brad was part of a two-man team assigned to support a 13-man Army platoon and was trained to call in close air support should the men come under fire and need the battlefield neutralized from above. When deployed, they are referred to as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, or JTACs.
It was during a patrol on Jan. 3, 2010, that the team entered a village in the Kandahar Province to clear the area when they came under attack. As part of the team advanced over a bridge, they triggered an IED, which killed two soldiers and seriously wounded Senior Airman Mike Malarsie--Brad's TACP partner.
While under intense fire, Brad and Army medic Brian Bowman went to their aid, crossing the bridge to pull the men from a nearby creek where they had been thrown. They pulled Mike, who was blinded by the explosion, and retrieved the body of the fallen soldier, and brought them to a safe spot where Brad administered "hasty first aid to Mike's traumatic injuries."
Once stabilized, Brad rejoined the ongoing firefight and called in close air support. During the next 30 minutes, Brad controlled three separate formations of attack helicopters while steering them clear of friendly fire. By this time, the body of the other fallen soldier had been located and Brad volunteered--without hesitation--to conduct the recovery mission. Joined again by Bowman, they retrieved the body, waded through waist-high water in the creek and just as they made it to the casualty collection point a second IED exploded, killing them both instantly.
"I'll never forget the day I got the call," said Gary. "My son, Ryan [a technical sergeant serving in the Air Force in Germany] called and said, 'Dad ... it's Brad.' I said what's wrong. He just said, 'He's gone.'" Moments before, the Air Force had personally notified Brad's wife, Tiffany, who was living with her mother in California and their newborn daughter, Chloe, while Brad was deployed.
"She [Tiffany] couldn't bear to tell us herself," said Gary. "It was just a terrible day. The worst part was coming home to tell Paula ..."
Suddenly their world became a haze of activity as they prepared to fly to Dover AFB, Del., to receive their son's body and begin the long journey of bringing Brad home to his final resting place in Troy.
Paula said she remembered how cold it was and how she was touched by the show of support from so many people.
"I just kept thinking ... it's so cold out and there are so many people we don't know lined up to pay their respects to our son. Tiffany's parented commented about how the Midwest must be a great place to live because of the tremendous show of support. That did bring a measure of comfort to us and it helped a really hard day be a little easier."
For the past three years, Gary said they've been consumed by a whirlwind of activity and that he doesn't remember what they did before Brad's death.
"We must have had a lot of free time," he said. "Now we are very busy with so many wonderful events that have been created for Brad or to see memorials that have been built in honor of our son. You just wouldn't believe what everyone has done ... they've raised money for Tiffany and Chloe and have reached out in so many ways. The only thing we can do is give back to others."
They said it's been through the help of so many people and organizations, such as the Patriot Guard, the VFW, members of the Brad's unit--the 10th Air Support Operations Squadron located at Fort Riley, Kansas, their church, the city of Troy, and the Air Force family to name a few ... that they've come through the worst event in their life to emerge stronger and able to assist other families who have lost children.
"We lost a son, but we've gained hundreds more through the TACP community," said Paula. "And the Patriot Guard showed up that very first night with a quilt for us and at first we didn't know what to think ... I did not know about them before this ... but they walked into our house and into our hearts forever. Their mission has become part of our mission now, too."
Gary added, "The Air Force family is a wonder group of people. I love all the branches, but our boys are Air Force ... and it's just a wonderful group."
After the funeral and initial grieving period, Paula said they asked themselves "what plan does God have for us?" and decided the best thing they could do was to reach out to others in service. One way they did that was through the annual 5K run in which they raise money for scholarships. Now in its third year, it has grown from 400 entrants to more than 800 last year, raising $23,000 for scholarships that are given to students of Triad High School and to children of retired and active duty servicemembers.
"We're so pleased with how the run has grown and it's been a good way to keep Brad's name alive, but also it has helped to bring our community together ... and it sends a message that we support our military and their mission," said Gary.
This year that extended circle of family and friends will embrace the Smith family once again as they formally receive the Silver Star--the third highest combat military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of service for valor in the face of the enemy.
Members of the 10th ASOS left Fort Riley Sept. 1 carrying the Silver Star in what will be a 24-hour, week-long ruck march to bring the medal to the ceremony. Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, the commander for 9th Air Force and parent headquarters for the 10th ASOS will preside and present the award to the family. Mike Malarsie received the Bronze Star with valor for his actions that day in supporting the team though seriously injured. And, though blind, is still serving on active duty as an administrator for the Recovering Airman Mentorship Program at Lackland AFB, Texas. He will be part of the ruck march and join the family for the ceremony.
Gary said, "We are so proud of Brad and what he did that day, and we are so proud to have been part of his life. There were others who gave their life before him ... and others who will yet give their lives ... and our heart goes out to all those families. We are so proud of all the young men and women who serve."