Medal of Honor: Paul Ray Smith

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The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith United States Army

Sergeant First Class
B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Army
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith received the Medal of Honor posthumously during a White House ceremony April 4, 2005.
Medal of Honor smith_bio

Spouse: Birgit Smith
Children: David A. Smith, Jessica M. Smith
Parents: Donald and Janice Pvirre

Enlisted: October 1989 Completed Basic and Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO

Assignments: 82nd Engineer Battalion (Bamberg, Germany), 1st Engineer Battalion (Fort Riley, Kansas), 317th Engineer Battalion (Fort Benning, Georgia), 9th Engineer Battalion (Schweinfurt, Germany), 11th Engineer Battalion (Fort Stewart, Georgia)

Deployments: Persian Gulf War, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Operation Iraqi Freedom

The personal character of Sgt. 1st Class Smith is best described through some anecdotes his sister related in a speech about her brother:

“Paul Ray had an incredible love for the troops under his command. One Christmas, the wife of a Soldier in Paul Ray’s platoon had just had surgery and the Soldier and his wife were unable to provide a Christmas for their family. So, Paul Ray collected food from the company Christmas party, and he and Birgit bought presents for the children, and they took them to the Soldier’s home.” Paul Ray’s family never heard of this until recounted to them by friends after his death. “Another…..very descriptive event that showed Paul Ray’s concern for his men involves another Soldier whose baby daughter was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital with a serious illness. Paul Ray would drive an hour out of town every night to give his support to this Soldier and his wife.” In the last letter that Paul Ray wrote to the parents from Iraq, he told them “ that he was a father himself, he realized just how much they had sacrificed to make his life a good life and he thanked them for that special effort. He spoke of being prepared to give—as he said—‘all that I am, to ensure that all my boys make it home.’ In that same letter, he told our parents how proud he was of the ‘privilege to be given 25 of the finest Americans we call Soldiers to lead into war’ and he recognized their fears and his responsibilities for their welfare.”

Paul Ray Smith was born on September 24, 1969, in El Paso, Texas. At the age of nine, his family moved to South Tampa, Florida, where he attended public schools. He enjoyed sports, liked cats, skateboarding, riding bicycles, and playing pranks with friends and his younger sister Lisa. He particularly enjoyed football, which instilled the importance of being part of a team and motivated his natural leadership abilities.

He developed an interest in carpentry while in high school and was employed part-time as a carpenter assistant. Paul Ray had an interest in old cars--he enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked. He restored a dune buggy with a friend. He liked to collect things from the sea, rocks in general, marbles. His family remembered that as far back as they could recall, when anyone would ask what he wanted to do as an adult, he always said, "I want to be a Soldier, get married, and have kids."

Upon graduating in 1988 from Tampa Bay Vocational Technical High School, he joined the Army and attended Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. As his mother wrote in his biography for a dedication ceremony in Orlando, he had begun living his dream...he was assigned to Germany, met and married his wife, Birgit, had two children, and was "doing what he was born to do.... Lead American Soldiers...." Sgt. 1st Class Smith served as a combat engineer and was deployed to Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and finally to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith joined the 11th Engineer Battalion in 1999 and immediately became an integral part of Bravo Company. When he deployed with his platoon to Kosovo in May 2001, as part of the KFOR 3A rotation, Smith was responsible for daily presence patrols in the highly populated town of Gnjilane. In the spring of 2002, he was promoted to sergeant first class and completed the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course in August 2002.

In January 2003, Sgt. 1st Class Smith returned from leave to prepare his men for rapid deployment to Kuwait as part of the 3rd Infantry's Divisions buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Smith took a strict approach to training his men, ensuring that his platoon was proficient in handling weapons and prepared for urban combat.

Bravo Company crossed the border on March 19th and traveled more than 300 kilometers in the first 48 hours of the war as part of the lead company in support of Task Force 2-7 Infantry. Passing through the Karbala Gap, Smith and his men pushed through the night of of April 3, 2003, towards Baghdad Airport where Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion of Task Force 2-7 were involved in a firefight with Iraqi forces. Sgt. 1st Class Smith's heroic actions and tragic death are described in more detail in the battlescape section of this website and in his Medal of Honor Citation.

Awards: Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal (4OLC), Army Achievement Medal (5OLC), Good Conduct Medal (3d award), National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, South West Asia Service Medal(3 bronze stars), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal , Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon (2d award), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (3d award), NATO Medal (Kosovo), Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia), Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait), Valorous Unit Award, Army Superior Unit Award, German Marksmanship Badge, French Armed Forces Commando Badge.

Citation Reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life
above and beyond the call of duty:

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.

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