SOG, Team Kadena Airmen mourn loss of officer

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
More than 550 353rd Special Operations Group and Team Kadena Airmen filled Chapel Three and its annex to remember and mourn the loss of 2nd Lt. Stephen Smith at his memorial service here April 15.

The 28-year-old lieutenant, a maintenance officer with the 353rd Maintenance Squadron, was found dead the morning of April 11 near Cape Hedo, Okinawa, after going missing while snorkeling with friends April 10.

During the ceremony, leaders spoke about the energy, excitement and excellence Lieutenant Smith brought with him wherever he went, no matter if it was a personal or professional engagement.

"In my quest to find "the right words" I talked with a lot of people about Smitty," said Lt. Col. Mark O'Reilly, the 353rd MXS commander. "There was no shortage of anecdotes and stories. Everyone had a quintessential Smitty story. What's remarkable about that is that Smitty had only been with the Wizards for eight months. In less than a year, he had managed to create what seemed like several years of experiences, stories and memories. Not really surprising... that's just who he was.

"He once told a friend, 'I go out of my way to make sure that I don't waste any time in my day,'" he said. "That's somewhat of an understatement. Despite spending less than five months actually on island, Smitty earned his private pilot's license, wrote, composed, recorded and mixed his own music, played three instruments, played for the group intramural soccer team, and saw more of Okinawa than many see in an entire tour."

The drive people discussed when describing Lieutenant Smith was apparent when the leaders discussed his distinguished military career. Lieutenant Smith initially enlisted in the Air Force as a communication and navigations systems maintainer in 2000 and was quickly recognized as Airman of the Month during his first reporting period. In 2004, he was selected to become a basic military training instructor, graduated the training program as an honor graduate and captured honors as the 322nd Training Squadron's Airman of the Quarter and Airman of the Year. For the next two years, he trained future Airmen and earned honor flight recognition with his first flight and several times after that. Eventually, Lieutenant Smith would complete his bachelor's and master's degrees and be selected for Officer Training School and later earn his commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force on the June 2, 2009.

His drive continued when he arrived at the 353rd SOG in July 2009.

"Since his arrival in the 353rd Special Operations Group as a new maintenance officer last July, he played a significant role in every major operation executed by this group and I am proud to have served with him over the last nine months," said Col. Robert Toth, the 353rd SOG commander. "But what truly brings me comfort during this very difficult time is knowing Smitty was a happy man during his final days with us here on Okinawa."
Prior to his snorkeling trip, Lieutenant Smith had just returned from visiting his family in the United States and explained to them he couldn't wait to spend time with his closest friends. On April 9, he gathered with friends and co-workers to get reacquainted following his time in the United States and to share his excitement over time spent with his son.

"From all accounts, Friday was a night to remember full of laughter and friendship," Col. Toth said.

The leaders noted the impact Lieutenant Smith had on his friends and coworkers was evident by the turnout at the ceremony and the grief displayed by those in attendance and there was no doubt in their minds he would be sorely missed and remembered. The leaders even offered a few new ways to remember him.

"To his friends and family who grieve his loss on that beautiful Saturday afternoon, I offer three additional ways to describe Smitty," said Col. Toth. "First, for his friends and fellow airmen, I offer the title of role model. His record of service clearly shows that he never avoided a challenge, never settled for second best, and never wasted a chance to live life to the fullest. He strived for excellence every step of the way and he demonstrated selfless service throughout his career. Second, for his mother Janet Bailey, father Gregory Smith and his siblings, I offer the title of success story. Your family produced an outstanding young man who faithfully served his nation. He proudly prepared those who will follow in his footsteps and his legacy will ensure the strength of our nation. You should be very proud of your son and brother. Finally, to his son Andru, I offer the title of proud, loving father. It is clear to all who knew your father that you were the brightest star in his universe. His time spent with you was always the most important time in his life. As you grow into a man, know that your father loved you with all of his being. He was very proud of you and you can be equally proud that he will always be your loving father."