CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 LAEL SMITH
66th Military Intelligence Company,
3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
Fort Hood, Texas
Combat offers a unique learning environment in which training can be your best friend or worst enemy. It’s here where Soldiers must learn to adapt from established training, technical and procedural protocols and execute real-world decisions on the fly. This ability to adapt allows Soldiers to make life-or-death decisions to overcome the enemy on the battlefield. When the wheels touch down on any given undisclosed runway during deployment, it’s usually self-discipline that allows us to return home safely.
As a young Soldier, I was always trained to execute, without question, any orders from my superiors. This discipline alone defined and ensured my — and many other Soldiers’ — survival at the two-way live-fire range. I remember my platoon sergeant being especially hard on Bradley crews to be disciplined and vigilant before, during and after combat operations.
The older Bradley Fighting Vehicles didn’t offer air conditioning or any other relief from heat. That was something I learned in the great state of Texas. Despite the heat, we were always instructed to keep our hatches down to remain combat effective. It was nothing short of a personal sauna for the crewmembers. While in Iraq, however, I realized the significance of my platoon sergeant’s stern warnings.
While on patrol, my Bradley was targeted and hit by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. The violent explosion went off less than five meters from us. I remember a white car cutting in front of our vehicle and then seeing black, then red and white from the explosion. The shockwave whipped my head back and then forward into the steering yoke.
When I woke up, my crew was screaming in my headset for me to drive forward. I couldn't see anything and the smoke, powder and gas vapors were burning my eyes and nasal passageways. I instinctively pushed on the gas and moved forward. I remember the sensation of the Bradley rocking forward and falling as we drove in and out of the crater left behind from the car bomb. I was later evacuated to a local forward operating base for medical treatment.
After I returned to the compound, I discovered the only reason I survived the explosion was the fact that I had my hatch closed. The driver’s periscopes, where my face would have been exposed, were destroyed. Although I’d suffered a concussion, had I not been trained to keep my hatch closed, regardless of my personal comfort, I would have been killed. This engraved discipline saved my life and encouraged me to enforce high levels of self discipline in the Soldiers I come into contact with today.