Capt. (Rep.) James Smith spoke to the Columbia Rotary Club about his experiences in Afghanistan. Some highlights:
- Before the speech, the club recognized my colleague Chuck Crumbo for the job he did reporting, in country, on the exploits of the 218th Brigade. Chuck accepted the well-deserved honor with typical modesty.
- Capt. Smith told the story again of how he, at age 37, bucked the system by insisting that he be allowed to quit the JAG Corps and join the infantry — after being inspired by a visit to Ground Zero in NYC. The system bucked back, and in fact finally told him that he would have to resign his commission and start over as an enlisted man in basic training, keeping up with the 18-year-olds. Obviously, they expected him to say, "Never Mind." But he accepted the challenge, went through basic, worked his way back up to captain, and ended up leading a team that fought the Taliban alongside Afghan national police forces. (The poor-quality video below, from my phone, is the part when he was telling the story of going to Basic again.)
- Yes, he did say the phrase, "If I run for governor." Interestingly, the subject was brought up by arch-Republican Rusty DePass. Rusty’s son served with Capt. Smith in Afghanistan, and he has warned his Dad that if the captain runs, he’s going to support him.
- Also in the audience was Joe Wilson, and this provided another example of how military service bridges partisan gaps. (It’s a pet theory of mine that the partisan bitterness of this generation results from politics now being dominated by the post-draft — and especially post WWII — generation, and they lack that shared experience to teach them that we’re all Americans first, not Democrats or Republicans.) Anyway, Rep. Smith made a point of mentioning that Joe was his C.O. back in his JAG days.
- As in his e-mailed reports you read on this blog, James exhibited his characteristic optimism about the future of Afghanistan, based on his experience with the children of the country. Whenever they’d roll into a village, he’d send his second-in-command to talk to the village elder, then go question a 10- or 11-year-old himself. The elder, trying to walk a tightrope between the Coalition and the Taliban, would blow smoke, such as "We last saw about a dozen Taliban a couple of weeks ago." The kid would give the straight intel, along the lines of "There were two dozen, and they rolled out of here the moment they saw you coming, just minutes ago."
It was a compelling presentation (particularly the part about how his team tracked down a Taliban leader who had been terrorizing the region), and I wish I’d had the resources at hand to have gotten the whole thing on video — good-quality video. Sorry about the lousy quality of this below…