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First Name: Leighton

Last Name: Smith

Birthplace: Mobile, AL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Warren

Date of Birth: 20 August 1939

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1962-1996
Leighton Warren Smith, Jr.

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1962

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)
•  Kosovo War (1998 - 1999)


Leighton Warren "Snuffy" Smith, Jr.
Admiral, U.S. Navy

Leighton Warren Smith, Jr. was born in Mobile, AL, on 20 August 1939.

The Early Years

Leighton grew up in the tiny town of Union Church, AL, where the Smith family of six (he had three sisters) doubled the population when they moved there. He says that after he graduated from high school, he didn't have a clue as to what he wanted to do, or what he wanted to be. However, he did know that he didn't want to be a farmer. Consequently, he headed for the state university, fraternity life and as little studying as he could get by with.

He could actually get by with a lot. He talked his way out of tough situations with teachers so often that an assistant principal later described him as the only student he knew who "talked his way through high school." Smith readily admits that he was never a good student and that he was, in fact, a "horrible student." He had a near-perfect attendance record at parties and football games, and he had the grades to prove it.

Smith attended the University of Alabama on a one-year tuition scholarship from 1957-58 and then, in a feat many considered miraculous, received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. One factor that contributed to his appointment was his uncle, Admiral Harold Page Smith [Honoree Record ID 648], who was serving as Chief of Navy Personnel in 1958.

The Academy Years

Talking didn't work as well at the Naval Academy as it did in high school. He had never learned how to study and, by November 1958, he was failing three courses and making Ds in two others. And when you consider that those were the only five classes that he was taking . . . things didn't look too promising. He said he almost gave up on himself; feeling that he didn't belong there. He credits a meeting with Captain William F. "Bush" Bringle, the Commandant of Midshipmen and the judge, jury and executioner of first year students at the Academy, with turning his life around. [Details are in an excellent article by John Chappell titled "Serving His Country: "You Can Do This' " which can be read at http://www.thepilot.com/news/2010/may/30/serving-his-country-snuffy-smiths-choices-lead-dis/] Smith graduated from the Academy with the Class of 1962 on D-Day, 6 June 1962, and was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy.

Military Career

Smith was designated a Naval Aviator in January 1964 and flew carrier-based, light attack jet aircraft during multiple deployments to the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. These included three cruises in waters off North Vietnam where he flew over 280 combat missions, primarily in the A-7 Corsair II [See photo]. Smith has held command at sea in the aviation community at squadron and wing levels as well as major commands that included a deep draft vessel, the USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6), before taking command of the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) and subsequent command of a carrier battle group as a flag officer. He has logged over 4,200 flying hours and accumulated over 1,000 carrier-arrested landings.

[Smith is best known by his pilot's handle "Snuffy" - a nickname he got during his flight training days after a bootlegger was arrested running the biggest moonshine still in Alabama on Smith family farmland. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith were popular Sunday funnies feature figures, always running from revenuers. After the story about the still hit the papers, other pilots dubbed him "Snuffy." Smith decided he liked Snuffy - so he's been Snuffy Smith ever since. He says he has lifelong friends that probably don't know his real name.]

ADM Smith's early flag officer tours were Director for Operations, U. S. European Command, (1989-91) and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Plans, Policy and Operations, (1991-94).

Appointed to the four-star rank of Admiral on 1 May 1994, Smith became Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (1994-96). In December 1995, ADM Smith assumed, concurrently, Command of the NATO-led Implementation Force, (IFOR) in Bosnia, a position he held until August 1996.

Admiral Smith retired from the U.S. Navy on 1 October 1996.

IFOR Command Controversy


Richard Holbrooke (then-Assistant Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs, 1994-96) criticized ADM Smith's command of IFOR in Bosnia for his refusal to use his authority to also perform non-military implementation tasks, including arresting indicted war criminals:

Based on Shalikashvili's statement at White House meetings, Christopher and I had assumed that the IFOR commander would use his authority to do substantially more than he was obligated to do. The meeting with Smith shattered that hope. Smith and his British deputy, General Michael Walker, made clear that they intended to take a minimalist approach to all aspects of implementation other than force protection. Smith signaled this in his first extensive public statement to the Bosnian people, during a live call-in program on Pale Television - an odd choice for his first local media appearance. During the program, he answered a question in a manner that dangerously narrowed his own authority. He later told Newsweek about it with a curious pride:

One of the questions I was asked was, "Admiral, is it true that IFOR is going to arrest Serbs in the Serb suburbs of Sarajevo?" I said, "Absolutely not, I don't have the authority to arrest anybody."

This was an inaccurate way to describe IFOR's mandate. It was true IFOR was not supposed to make routine arrests of ordinary citizens. But IFOR had the authority to arrest indicted war criminals, and could also detain anyone who posed a threat to its forces. Knowing what the question meant, Smith had sent an unfortunate signal of reassurance to Karadzic - over his own network.

Admiral Smith's Rebuttal of Holbrooke's Criticism

[MHOH is in contact with Admiral Smith and the following is his rebuttal, verbatim.]

"Richard Holbrooke criticizes me because he wanted me to "do more." What he wanted from me exceeded my authority. The most glaring example: arrest suspected war criminals. The guidance I was given about this was that I did not have the authority to arrest anyone. I could "detain" a suspected war criminal should our forces come in contact with one in the course of our authorized operations. Many of the Chiefs of Defense Staffs of the various countries that had committed forces to IFOR were clear in their position; 'Peace First, Justice Second.' They, like I, knew that to begin the process of "hunting down" suspected war criminals would inflame both sides and could very well lead to open hostilities. MY boss, General George Joulwan,* was quite specific when he told me: If you receive a report that a suspected war criminal is having coffee at a local coffee shop, you are NOT to go after him. There was NO room for misinterpretation in that order."

"With respect to targets during the bombing campaign, Holbrooke wanted me to continue bombing in order to give him more leverage in his negotiations with the Serbs. I told him we had achieved our desired level of damage to all authorized targets thus I had no targets. That said, I requested, on three separate occasions, more targets to strike. The first two times he said "no"; the third time he told me to stop asking as there would be no new targets authorized. He was dancing on a political tightrope as the Permanent Representatives of the NATO Council had to approve additional targets and they simply did not have, in my estimation, the stomach for adding to my authorized target list. It was suggested that I have our pilots go back to previously destroyed targets and strike them again. I reminded him that we did stupid things like that in Viet Nam; we should not go down that path again as we would lose credibility with our pilots. They would be subjected to the same Serb air defenses even though the target had been destroyed. Holbrooke was angry because I did not do his bidding and frequently reminded him that I worked for, and took orders from, Gen Joulwan, not Holbrooke. He was not happy with that position and, in his book, and elsewhere, he accuses me of 'lying to the President.' That is simply not so."

/s/ Leighton Smith
Admiral USN (Ret)

* U.S. Army General George Alfred Joulwan, Commander-in-Chief, United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) from 1993-97.

Medals, Awards and Badges

Defense Distinguished Service Medal with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit with 2 Gold Stars
Distinguished Flying Cross with Gold Star
Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star
Air Medal (Gold Award Numeral 29)
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor Device and 2 Gold Stars
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Valor Device
Joint Meritorious Unit Award
Navy Unit Commendation
Navy Unit Meritorious Unit Commendation with Bronze Star
Navy Expeditionary Medal
National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with Bronze Star
Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with 2 Bronze Stars
Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Medal with Gold Star
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Medal
NATO Medal (Yugoslavia)
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal
Naval Aviator Badge

Foreign Medals and Awards

Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary
French Order of National Merit with the rank of Grand Officer
Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (invested personally by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom)

In Retirement

He is currently serving as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Naval Analysis, is President of Leighton Smith Associates and Vice President of Global Perspectives, Inc., both international consulting firms. He is Chairman of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, immediate past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of Naval Aviation. He is also on the National Advisory Council to the Navy League and is a member of the Board of Directors of several corporations.

Smith was a supporter of Presidential candidate John McCain during the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. Smith spoke out in defense of McCain after critical comments from General Wesley Clark regarding McCain's military experience. Prior to his retirement, Smith had previously served alongside General Clark for several years during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Admiral Smith is one of the senior signatories of the 31 March 2009 letter urging the president to maintain the policy excluding homosexuals from the armed forces.


Shortly after graduating from the Academy, he married Dorothy McDowell, which he says was the smartest thing he ever did. Snuffy and Dottie have one son and two daughters, their spouses, and grandchildren.

An Observation by MHOH

Despite ADM Smith's admission of being a 'horrible student' at the Naval Academy, a more important gauge of his education might be 'what he did with what he learned.' His many accomplishments during his Naval career, including attaining four-star rank, would seem to prove that he was very good at 'knowledge application.'

Origin of Nickname/Handle:
Smith is best known by his pilot's handle "Snuffy" - a nickname he got during his flight training days after a bootlegger was arrested running the biggest moonshine still in Alabama on Smith family farmland. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith were popular Sunday funnies feature figures, always running from revenuers. After the story about the still hit the papers, other pilots dubbed him "Snuffy." Smith decided he liked Snuffy - so he's been Snuffy Smith ever since. He says he has lifelong friends that probably don't know his real name.

Honoree ID: 649   Created by: MHOH




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