He Fought To Deploy
May 20, 2008
Often when we turn on our televisions, we see stories in the media about Soldiers who’ve refused to deploy with their fellow Soldiers to Iraq, saying that they refuse to fight in, what they term is an “illegal war.” We’re constantly reminded that the media is very much against the policies of the current administration and anything that they do. We’re constantly hearing about groups like IVAW and others who “claim” that our Troops are constantly committing horrible acts against the people in Iraq. Yet, we never see in the media, stories about our Troops who want to go to Iraq, because they know the good that’s being accomplished there. The Troops, who wouldn’t have to go, due to medical reasons or situations in their families, yet they make the choice to go, and they serve honorably.
I’m constantly amazed at the courage, dedication and sense of duty that so many of our Troops have. Yet the media never tells us about them. Instead, they chose to focus on the very small percentage of screw ups and do their best to make it look like all of our Troops are that way. They never tell us about the men and women who feel that it’s their duty and obligation to deploy … Soldiers like Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christian Smith.
CWO3 Smith is a maintenance technician, with Troop R, 4th Squadron, 3rd ACR, who could have stayed home when his unit received orders for Iraq. But that’s not what he wanted to do and he fought long and hard to make sure that he’d be able to deploy with his fellow Soldiers.
CWO3 Smith’s story started in 2003 when he was deployed to Iraq with a military police brigade. He began experiencing times when he would trip and fall for no reason at all. His fellow Soldiers saw this happen and were worried about him. Smith and his fellow Soldiers had no clue what was causing him to fall. Smith noticed that over the course of the deployment, his muscles began growing weaker and weaker.
“It was very humbling, to say the least,” he said. â€œThere wasnâ€™t much I could do about it then, but I knew that once I got back from [Iraq], I was going to have to go see a doctor and find out what was going on.â€
After returning home from Iraq, Smith began visiting doctors. In February 2005, he underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his back to relieve pressure on what the doctors at the time thought was a pinched nerve. The surgery didn’t help and by that time, he had lost the ability to move the toes on his left foot. His muscles continued to grow weaker. Finally after even more visits to the doctor, he was sent to a neurologist. In late September 2005, he was finally given the diagnosis of multifocal motor neuropathy.
“It’s a condition where my body thinks there’s something wrong with the nerves,” Smith explained. â€œItâ€™s attacking my nerves, and it doesnâ€™t allow good conduction for the signals that tell the muscles to move. But thereâ€™s treatment for it.â€
Once he had a diagnosis, he began the treatment for his condition. Every three weeks, he had to have an intravenous immunoglobulin treatment. By then, Smith’s unit was once again scheduled to be deployed. Smith was ready to deploy, but instead he was slated to stay back home with the rear detachment. His protests, that he was getting better, didn’t help and he ended up staying at Fort Hood while his unit deployed without him.
â€œWithin four or five days, I started noticing a lot more strength, and by 10 days after that, I could wiggle my toes and keep my left foot up,â€ he said. â€œI went back to the unit and told them the treatment was working. At that point, it was a matter of how the Army medical system was going to handle this.â€
His doctors told him that his condition was a legitimate medical condition that would definitely be enough to keep him from deploying. His doctor couldn’t seem to understand why he would want to deploy, when he had a reason that he didn’t have to.
“It’s one of those things where, having grown up playing sports, you spend all that time practicing with a team; and, all of a sudden, they go to an away game, out of town, and youâ€™re stuck at home,â€ he added. â€œItâ€™s not a good feeling.â€
A year and a half later, Smith was again faced with his new unit getting ready to deploy and he was determined that he wasn’t about to be left behind again. His treatments were working, he was free of symptoms and he was ready to deploy. So he began and long and very frustrating campaign to ensure that he would be deployable. One again, his doctors told him No. There were a chain of emails from one medical professional to another, all stating that he shouldn’t deploy. Their reasons were risk of contamination, with the secondary possibility of anaphylaxis or renal failure. They felt that Smith didn’t have a good grasp on what his medical condition was. Smith, however had researched his disease and discussed a plan with the squadron surgeon Major (Dr) Sean Hollonbeck and they had come up with a plan for administering his treatments during deployment. Even then, doctors said no. His commander was skeptical that he’d get the clearance necessary to be able to deploy, but they supported him in his efforts.
“The Army is attempting and perfecting new things in theater of operation every day,” Smith wrote. “Why not this?
“I guess I just felt like I’m in the Army to do a job,” he said. “Having been left back once, I told my wife, ‘If I can’t deploy and go do what I’ve trained to do, then I shouldn’t be doing this anymore.’”
This was personal for Smith and he had the support of everyone is Troops R. It finally came down to a month at Fort Irwin, California at the National Training Center. While there, an enlisted combat medic administered his treatment and he had no problems whatsoever. The Army finally gave in and Smith deployed with his unit, as part of Task Force 12, in November 2007.
â€œArmy doctrine is to train in times of peace and to win at war,â€ Smith said. â€œI see a lot of value in what I did as a rear detachment soldier, but if the Armyâ€™s at war, I want to go.â€
â€œI know it motivates me,â€ Sgt. Nelson Dawson, a soldier in Smithâ€™s troop, said. â€œEven though he has this condition and could have stayed home with his family, he chose to come here and be with his soldiers. He said, â€˜You know what? â€¦ I can still do my job. Why canâ€™t I go?â€™â€
During his struggle to get clearance to deploy, Smith was asked by a Doctor what he hoped to get from the fight to deploy. His only response was that he wanted to be able to run and play basketball and do the things he’s done all his life. The doctor appeared shocked that Smith wanted to stay in the military, especially with a medical condition that would allow him to get out altogether.
â€œI said, â€˜Well yeah, if I can do all those other things, of course I want to stay in the military,â€™â€ he went on. â€œIf I wanted to get out, I would have done it a long time ago, but thatâ€™s just not me.â€
This young man is someone to be admired. There are many other men and women just like him, who despite things that would allow them to get out of the military, continue to fight to stay and serve a country that they love in it’s time of need. What an inspiration!