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Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2011

Captain blinded in Iraq talks about Hope Unseen

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Six years ago, a suicide car bomber robbed his eyesight, but Capt. Scotty Smiley said the path in life today has never been clearer for him. The Maneuver Captains Career Course student nearly died after that explosion in northern Iraq while serving as a platoon leader with the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Now, he’s an inspirational speaker, sharing his message of optimism and perseverance with corporations, educators and church groups.

In 2010, along with co-author Doug Crandall, he wrote and released a book titled Hope Unseen: The Story of the U.S. Army’s First Blind Active-Duty Officer. Smiley will sign copies of it from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Benning Post Exchange.

“I wanted to let people know we all go through trials and struggles in life. It’s how we react and how we take advantage of situations we’re placed in that really allow us to excel,” he said. “We have to make something good of what’s been placed in front of us. Even though we face dark times, it’s about stepping out. God has a reason for putting us in those situations. And it can turn into something good.”

Smiley’s incident occurred April 6, 2005, in Mosul. A first lieutenant at the time, he and his platoon headed out that afternoon after receiving intelligence on the location of a possible car bomb in the city. Smiley said he met up with his company commander.

“In the lead vehicle, I spotted a suspicious vehicle that fit the description,” he recalled. “I parked about 25 meters to (the car bomber’s) southwest, and we cordoned the area off. I yelled at him to get out of the vehicle. He refused. Then, he let his foot off the brake.”

As the vehicle came toward him, Smiley fired I shot two rounds at the car before it disintegrated. He was blinded by the blast and passed out.

The platoon leader was rushed to the Combat Support Hospital in Mosul, where he began to “flat line,” he said. Doctors resuscitated him before arranging airlift to Balad. There, his left eye had to be removed. Placed in a medically induced coma, he was sent first to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for more surgery and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

When he regained consciousness, Smiley had no vision at all. His multiple wounds included a piece of metal stuck in the left frontal lobe of his brain, which resulted in temporary paralysis to the right half of the body.

Counting the procedures in Iraq, he underwent four major surgeries and spent almost two months at Walter Reed. He also went through five weeks of intensive occupational and physical therapy to rebuild strength.

“It was the darkest time of my entire life. I didn’t know what God had planned for me and why he allowed this to happen,” Smiley said. “That was the biggest question I always had. … I needed to find out what God was going to use me for and how he was going to use me.

“To come to that conclusion, I had to forgive the man who blew himself up and the decisions I had made. Most importantly, I had to ask God to forgive me for just denying him. Once I did that, I was able to slowly move forward and accept it.”

After his recovery, he cleared a medical and physical evaluation board in 2006, got his paperwork approved and stayed on active duty.

“I just didn’t see my time in the Army as complete,” he said. “I knew there was still so much more I can offer the Army, as far as what I learned and experienced. I want to continue to give in leadership and management. With the support of my wife, family and friends, those opportunities opened up, and I took advantage of it.” Scotty and Tiffany Smiley, both natives of Pasco, Wash., are now the parents of two small boys, Grady and Graham.

“Scotty’s commitment to stay in the Army matches his character. Serving is his calling; it’s who he is,” she said. “After he was blinded, he kept saying, ‘I’m still the same person, I just do things differently now.’ He still wanted to serve and be a part of the team he was fighting for.”

Tiffany said she’s “amazed” by the determination and resolve he showed to bounce back after the car bomb. “It was a long, hard journey, but over time, this injury only intensified his indomitable spirit,” she said. “He came back stronger than he was before. He is not afraid to try anything.

“Some people say you have to lose your life to gain it. I know that Scotty has felt that. He has been at death’s doorstep. This is like his second chance, and he is willing and ready to live it to the fullest in service to his country.”

Smiley became an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy before serving as company commander of West Point’s Warrior Transition Unit.

In September, the captain enrolled in the MCCC here. Graduation is set for March, and he hopes to take command of a company on Sand Hill afterward.

To learn more about Smiley and his book, visit www.HopeUnseen.com.

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