I heard about this shortly after Baghdad fell, watching TV. It was either the History Channel or Discovery, an insta-documentary on the invasion. I remember an Army officer speaking to a reporter about the fight at the airport. I remember the officer sounding angry that the story wasn't front page news, in fact, it struck me just how emotional he was.
I am in awe of people like Sgt. Smith. I read stories like this and I wonder what I would have done in his place. Sgt Smith made a decision under stress to perform an action that was above and beyond what was required or expected of him. In doing so he not only saved the lives of others, but he lost his.
Sgt. Smith had a wife and two kids at home, and 25 soldiers under his command in Iraq. From his citation: "Sgt. 1st Class Smiths actions saved the lives of at least 100 Soldiers, caused the failure of a deliberate enemy attack hours after 1st Brigade seized the Baghdad Airport, and resulted in an estimated 20-50 enemy soldiers killed. His actions inspired his platoon, his Company, the 11th Engineer Battalion and Task Force 2-7 Infantry."
He could've retreated, he could have fallen back and re-grouped, the objective would have been taken and the attack stopped eventually, I have no doubt. No one would have objected to that decision, no one would have called that cowardice or anything other than what a professional soldier would have done. But he chose to do more than that, and he evidently made that decision before any of this ever happened. On his profile page a description of his last letter home describes how 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 his 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.
Would I have made the same decision? We're the same age, I have a wife and kids too. Would I have recognized that I was in a position where the responsibility that I had to the hundred or so people standing behind me was greater than the responsibility that I had to my wife, my kids and myself? Would I have acted in accordance to my own stated principals, or would I have folded like a cheap cardboard box?
I know what I hope I would have done, but I'm not at all certain I would have done it. There is, after all a reason why we honor people like Sgt. Smith, and there's even more of a reason why there's so few people like Sgt. Smith to be honored.