11/09/08 — Former command chief speaks at ceremony

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Former command chief speaks at ceremony

By Molly Flurry
Published in News on November 9, 2008 9:27 AM

Molly Flurry

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Thomas E. Smith speaks Saturday during a Veterans Day service at Woods Chapel Free Will Baptist Church on New Hope Road in Goldsboro.

From Americans' caring comes courage.

Caring about veterans was the message imparted during a service meant to honor veterans past and present on Saturday afternoon at Woods Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Goldsboro.

The event paid homage to veterans through song, prayer, a motivational guest speaker and dance with the theme "Americans' caring comes courage."

"If you care about something and you put your heart into it, and you ask God to support you, the courage will come," said Larry Walls Sr., retired sergeant major, U.S. Army, and chairman of the church's Military Ministry.

Walls said Saturday was a day he waited for since 1992, when he retired from the Army.

As a veteran of Vietnam, he was among soldiers who found gratitude for their service to their country and their effort in preserving freedom from the public a rarity.

But that is changing because of events like Woods Chapel's service and others, Walls said, because now people are beginning to recognize troops; efforts to preserve the freedom often taken for granted.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Thomas E. Smith, U.S. Air Force Reserve, guest speaker, shared several stories with the crowd of about 50 gathered for the service delivering a message that there is, and will always be, a price paid for freedom, and that price must be recognized.

"I want you to understand one thing," he said, speaking to the crowd. "It is necessary."

Smith ended his 35-year military service career at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base as the command chief of the 916th Air Refueling Wing, Air Force Reserve and is now using skills he developed in the military to help children at Dillard Academy.


During a seven-day stint of rest and relaxation leave from conflict in Vietnam, Smith had the good fortune to meet up with his cousin, a Marine, who was also on combat leave.

As Smith boarded a C-130 to return to the combat zone, he turned one last time to look back at his cousin.

He watched as his cousin's platoon handed out candy to Vietnamese children.

And in that last look, a grenade exploded -- Smith's cousin perished in the blast -- a part of the price paid for freedom.


During the Gulf War, Smith was befriended by a Saudi soldier who asked him to share with Americans the story of his people in hopes they understand why their troops sacrificed American lives in order to protect other world citizens.

"Just imagine you are sitting at home or at your office or at school and you're going about your business," he said.

"When all of the sudden your doors blows off the hinges and military people come into your home and they say get up and leave. Now."

Smith explained the scenario is what happened to citizens of Kuwait in the time leading up to the Gulf War.

"What would you do?" he asked. "What if you were disenfranchised?"

Smith said it was bigger countries like the United States who were looked to by those in need for help maintaining the security of freedom.


Smith's orders while stationed near the Afghan-Pakistan border, during the Afghanistan War, were to ensure there were no suicides or desertions among the ranks.

"My job was to make sure they stayed focused, that they understood what they are doing is not in vain."

On New Year's, he and fellow airmen were celebrating as best they could in the remote and hostile region they were stationed.

That night among the tents they work, ate and lived in, a young airman was celebrating her birthday.

"She was a 19-year-old about to turn 20," he said.

"That little celebration prompted me to think -- do we really understand what is going on, what our military has to do so we can sit here today, together and enjoy our freedom?" he said.

In closing, Smith said, "We have to understand we need to support the men and women who are protecting our freedom."

Staff Sgt. Gregory Keesee, retired United States Marine Corps and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 45 commander, echoed Smith's sentiments and explained the responsibility of those gathered for the service and fellow veterans.

"It's a simple task. Each one teach one," he said.