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First Name: Paul

Last Name: Smith

Birthplace: El Paso, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Ray

Date of Birth: 24 September 1969

Date of Death: 04 April 2003

Rank: Sergeant First Class

Years Served: 1989 - 2003
Paul Ray Smith

•  Gulf War (1990 - 1991)
•  Kosovo War (1998 - 1999)
•  Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) (2003 - 2011)


Paul Ray Smith
Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army
Medal of Honor Recipient
Iraq War

Paul Ray Smith was a U.S. Army Sergeant First Class who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Baghdad, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Early Years

Paul Ray Smith was born on 24 September 1969 in El Paso, TX, to Donald and Janice Pvirre but when he was nine the family moved to Tampa, FL. As a child, Paul attended public schools and enjoyed sports; especially American football. He liked skateboarding and bicycles, as well as playing pranks on his friends and younger sister, Lisa. In high school he became interested in carpentry, even finding a part time job as a carpenters assistant. He also liked to work on cars, especially old ones, and enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked; he even restored a dune buggy with a friend. In 1989, he graduated from Tampa Bay Vocational Tech High School and, in October, joined the U.S. Army.

Military Career

He was sent to Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, before being sent to Germany for his first duty station, where he joined the 9th Engineer Battalion. Later, he served during the Persian Gulf War. He deployed with B Company in October 1996 as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the covering force for Operation Joint Endeavor and Operation Joint Guardian; the battalion returned to Schweinfurt in April 1997. In 1999 he was posted to the 11th Engineer Battalion and deployed with them to Kosovo in May 2001, where he was responsible for daily presence patrols in the town of Gnjilane. In the spring of 2002, he received a promotion to Sergeant First Class and completed the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course in August 2002.

As part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was assigned to B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division. His company was supporting the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment as it made its way through the Karbala Gap, across the Euphrates River and to Saddam International Airport (BIAP) in Baghdad. On 4 April 2003, a 100-man force was assigned to block the highway between Baghdad and the airport, about one mile east of the airport. After a brief battle, several of the Iraqis were captured. Smith spotted a walled enclosure nearby with a tower overlooking it. He and his squad set about building an impromptu enemy prisoner of war (EPW) holding area in the enclosure. Smith and 16 other men used an Armored Combat Earthmover (similar to a bulldozer) to knock a hole in the south wall of the courtyard. On the north side, there was a metal gate that Smith assigned several men to guard. These men noticed 50-100 Iraqi fighters who had taken positions in trenches just past the gate. He summoned a Bradley fighting vehicle to defend their position. Three nearby M113 Armored Personnel Carriers came to support the attack. An M113 was hit, possibly by a mortar, and all three crewmen were wounded. The Bradley, damaged and running low on ammunition, withdrew to reload during a lull in the battle. Smith organized the evacuation of the injured M113 crewmen. However, behind the courtyard was a military aid station crowded with 100 combat casualties. To protect it from being overrun, Smith chose to fight on rather than withdraw with the wounded.

Meanwhile, some Iraqi fighters had taken position in the tower overlooking the courtyard, just over the west wall. The Iraqis now had the Americans in the courtyard under an intense crossfire. Smith took command of the M113 and ordered a driver to position it so that he could attack both the tower and the trenches. He manned the M113's machine gun, going through three boxes of ammunition. A separate team led by First Sergeant Tim Campbell attacked the tower from the rear, killing the Iraqis. As the battle ended, Smith's machine gun fell silent. His comrades found him slumped in the turret hatch. His armored vest was peppered with 13 bullet holes, the vest's ceramic armor inserts, both front and back, cracked in numerous places. But the fatal shot, one of the last from the tower, had entered his neck and passed through his brain, killing SFC Smith.

Before deploying to Iraq Smith had written to his parents, "There are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane. It doesn't matter how I come home, because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home."

Medal of Honor

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60 mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith's extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division 'Rock of the Marne,' and the United States Army.

On 4 April 2005, in a White House ceremony, SFC Smith's eleven-year-old son, David, received his father's Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush, along with the newly approved Medal of Honor flag. Also present was his wife, Birgit, and stepdaughter, Jessica. The presentation took place exactly two years after Smith's death.

Medals, Awards & Badges

Medal of Honor
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart
Army Commendation Medal
Army Achievement Medal
Good Conduct Medal (3 Knots)
National Defense Service Medal
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Southwest Asia Service Medal with 3 Bronze Service Stars
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon (2)
Army Service Ribbon
Overseas Service Ribbon (3)
NATO Medal (Kosovo)
Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)
Valorous Unit Award
Army Superior Unit Award
Combat Infantryman Badge

He also received the German Marksmanship Badge and French Armed Forces Commando Badge.


• The U.S. Post Office in Holiday, Florida, and the United States Army Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, FL have been named in his honor.
• Three middle schools were named in his honor: In Holiday, FL on 25 August 2006; in Tampa, FL (Sgt. Paul R. Smith Middle School) on 18 August 2008; and, in his hometown of Tampa, FL on 27 April 2009.
• SFC Smith is also honored in the America's Army Game with information about him and a simulation of his battle.
• Birgit Smith, SFC Smith's widow, sponsored the USS Freedom, the first Freedom-class littoral combat ship, and her initials are welded on the ship's keel. The couple's Saint Christopher medal and wedding bands are also embedded in the ship's mast.
• New fitness centers at Fort Benning and Fort Stewart, GA, as well as one at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, are named in his honor.
• The education center at Fort Stewart is named in his honor.

Death and Burial

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith was killed in action on 4 April 2003. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Memorial Section D, Lot 67.

SFC Smith is survived by his wife, Birgit; son, David; and stepdaughter, Jessica.

Honoree ID: 34   Created by: MHOH




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