By Mark Inman
Olean native Kyle Smith serves his local community in a different way. He does it in Iraq.
After receiving his degree in elementary education and graduating from the ROTC program at St. Bonaventure University in 2005, Smith became a commissioned officer in the United States Army.
On a 14-month tour of duty in Mosul that started in July of 2007, Smith led a platoon of 55 soldiers and was responsible, he said, for “the good, the bad, and everything in-between.” He commanded a transportation detachment on recoveries of battle-damaged equipment, transported food and water, and supported the Iraqi army by building checkpoints and security spots.
Now a captain, Smith attributes his success overseas to the dual training he received at St. Bonaventure.
“The faculty in the Department of Education teach you from day one that it’s all about taking care of children: help them learn and grow, mold them into what they can be in high school, college, the real world,” Smith said.
“In ROTC at St. Bonaventure, everyone has such diverse specialties and does such a great job mirroring Army life that when you step in you are 100 percent prepared.”
Smith said his ROTC training enabled him to “step in front of a group of 53 soldiers and teach them and make them be better at what they do.”
It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“As a teacher, you realize parents entrust their sons and daughters to you. America is giving me their sons and daughters to protect and help them do great things,” he said.
Smith showed great promise during his time in ROTC at St. Bonaventure. His commanding officer at his graduation, retired Lt. Col. Richard C. Trietley Jr., said Smith was “among the top 10 percent of cadets” he worked with at St. Bonaventure.
“I truly enjoyed teaching him and training him as he is a very positive and enthusiastic individual who always gave 100 percent to everything that he did,” said Trietley, now the interim vice provost for student life at St. Bonaventure.
Trietley said the Army must have seen Smith’s potential as well because he was given command of a company in combat while he was still a first lieutenant. “These command positions are normally reserved for captains, but due to Kyle’s outstanding leadership ability and the trust that his battalion commander had in him, he was placed in this extremely important position,” said Trietley.
Smith described the many roles he has faced in the Army as the most difficult part of his service.
“Trying to adapt to different direct leadership roles – to be ready and confident, always working with different people – is a great challenge,” he said. And it’s one he said he accepts: “To be open and work with everyone allows you to pull everyone’s strengths together to make your team the most successful.”
Prior to going overseas, Smith helped the community around his base at Fort Stewart, Ga. He and his fellow soldiers helped with the Special Olympics, sponsored cleanups at churches, and read at several elementary schools.
“The kids loved it. Reaching out to them shows mutual appreciation. Anyone who asks, we are there for them,” he said.
Smith credits these activities and his experience at St. Bonaventure, where he was exposed to the Franciscan tradition of respecting the dignity of each person, with helping him communicate with the Iraqi people.
Smith and members of his platoon would give Iraqi children toys during humanitarian missions. “The children have a lot less than we have around here, and it’s a sad state,” he said. The soldiers would also ask the children’s parents what more they could do to help, knowing of their fear and desperation.
“One thing the enemy will do is pay a person, like you or I, to plant explosive devices for the equivalent of $100,” said Smith. Some are tempted, seeing no other way to provide for their family. “So we go out there and try to get them jobs so they don’t have to try to kill us or their own people,” he said.
It is this dedication to his team as well as civilians that has earned Smith recognition, particularly among his commanding officers. One, Lt. Col. Alton Clowers, recognizes Smith as “a selfless and caring leader with the tactical and logistical savvy to accomplish any mission.”
Clowers sees Smith’s qualities as representative of St. Bonaventure University, and specifically its ROTC program.
“My impressions (of the university) are excellent. St. Bonaventure undoubtedly has an outstanding ROTC program, because it produced an exceptional leader like Capt. Smith,” said Lt. Col. Clowers. “He is a man who will get the job done correctly the first time.”
Smith hopes to one day become a professor of military science, but first he wants to distinguish himself as a model Army officer.
“You have to set the example, do what’s right and maintain the straight path and hope the example is taken up by your soldiers,” he said. “It is amazing the trust someone will put in your hands if you show competence and the willingness to fight hard for them.”
Trietley is confident Smith is the right person to set the example.
“He is an outstanding person and leader who has made Olean, St. Bonaventure and our Army very proud,” he said.