A life for 'something bigger'

RaeLynn Ricarte
Staff Writer

Jack Smith grew up knowing that one day he would be a soldier.
His parents had worked hard to make sure their four sons went to college, so they weren’t happy when Jack graduated from high school in Trenton, New Jersey, and then found his way to an Army recruiter. 
 “I always wanted to be a paratrooper,” said Smith, who now resides in Colville with his wife, Sylvia. 
“I was born in 1957 and grew up during the hippie and anti-war period in the U.S. But I always knew that I’d be a soldier.”
When Smith was in the sixth grade, he overheard his teacher talking about how her son had disrespected soldiers returning home from Vietnam at an airport. After mulling over his feelings about her acceptance of that behavior, Smith turned in an essay assignment the next day that outlined the tremendous sacrifices made by U.S. troops on D-Day (June 6, 1944) in World War II. On that date, Allied forces invaded northern France by beach landings in Normandy and the lives of at least 10,000 troops were lost.
“I got a ‘F’ on that paper,” he said. Not only was Smith undeterred from his goal, he was even more determined to succeed as a paratrooper. And, not only did he accomplish that goal, he became one of the elite Army Rangers and part of a
reconnaissance unit.
Smith is the keynote speaker for the 2021 Veterans Day ceremony in Colville. The event begins at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11, on the lawn in front of the Stevens County Courthouse.
Frank Starr American Legion Post 47 has organized the annual observance in partnership with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6963.
A rifle salute to military families, past and present, takes place and a trumpeter will sound Taps.
There will be a flag-folding ceremony to demonstrate one of the many military customs. Boy Scout Troop 921 will post and retire the colors. 
Smith, who has just been re-elected to his seat on the Colville City Council, plans to speak about the lessons of Duty, Honor Commitment that are drilled into men and women who wear the uniform. 
“It’s not something tangible, not what you see on a TV show, but it becomes a way of life,” he said. 
When Smith went to the Army recruiter’s office at age 18, he asked specifically about the possibility of becoming a paratrooper. His head was filled with visions of glory from reading Northwest Passage, a historical novel by Kenneth Roberts, about the exploits of Robert Rogers, the leader of Rogers’ Rangers, a colonial force that fought the British during the French and Indian War.
Smith was excited to become part of the brotherhood that had existed since pre-revolutionary times.
However, the reality of going through Ranger training in 1978 was much different that his dreams of glory.
“That was a rough two months,” he said. “There was little sleep or food, and training under stressful conditions. It was all about learning leadership and is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he recalled.
The selection process to winnow out all but the best warriors  followed basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, and infantry training at Fort Benning in Georgia.
Smith landed at Fort Lewis in Washington before officially going through Ranger selection, and he immediately fell in love with the lush beauty of Washington State.
“I knew this was where I was going to be,” he said. 
He returned to Fort Lewis as a full-fledged Ranger after the arduous training at Fort Benning and became part of the Second Battalion.
Jumping out of airplanes in the dark of the night was something that he found as exhilarating as he had imagined. Well, once he figured out what to do...
On his first night free-fall jump, Smith found himself trying to figure out the terrain near the Columbia River in Umatilla County, Oregon. 
“I could just see patches of light and dark but I couldn’t tell where the river was so I was ready with my flotation device just in case.
“When I hit and sank into the ground, I was relieved.”
Smith stayed in the military for six years and then decided to go to college. He was 24 and signed up for classes at Stanford University in California.
 “It was a change, but I got to try something different,” he said.
In his second year of classes, two things happened that sent Smith back into the Rangers:
• The embassy in Lebanon was bombed in 1983 and his best friend, Terry Gilden, was among 17 Americans killed in the attack.
“That really affected me and I have carried it since,” said Smith. “I should have been there, I was in the wrong place.”
• Then, on Oct. 23 of that year, the Rangers from his former unit jumped in Grenada after the communist forces seized power in a coup and the U.S. intervened to restore order.
When a college professor made a remark about “imperial America” in criticism of that action, Smith said, “That’s It!” and found the nearest recruiter office.
Within a couple weeks, he was back in uniform and he remained in the Rangers until retirement in 1998 at the rank of First Sergeant.
Along the way, Smith became part of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s recon detachment, and an infantry instructor at West Point Military Academy.
He was 41 when he left the military and didn’t really have a plan for the future -— beyond returning to Washington State.
He ended up in Colville working for Internet Express, which eventually became Desert Winds Wireless. 
Smith’s desire to continue protecting the principles America was founded upon led him to approach the city council about a decade ago with the request that they take a strong stand for the Second Amendment.
He was surprised to see about 150 people show up to support his proposal just by word-of-mouth advertising.
Mostly recently, Smith gained council approval for a resolution to show support for the Colville Police Department during a time when the movement to defund law enforcement, and pass laws that make it more difficult for officers to get the job done, was going strong.
“You are trained in the military to be part of something bigger than yourself, to give back, and I think that has just stayed with me,” he said.
 At Thursday’s ceremony, Smith will share some of his family’s military history and how it fed his desire to join their lineage. 
“I want to talk about the sacrifices that so many for this country and what that means to us,” he said.