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    Battalion commander exemplifies resiliency during Middle East deployment

    Battalion commander exemplifies resiliency during Middle East deployment

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Matthew Keeler | CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Lt. Col. Erik Smith (left), commander of Headquarters and...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Tina Villalobos 

    305th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait— Learning methods of maintaining resilience during deployments is particularly important for Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, according to Lt. Col. Erik Smith, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion commander, 28th Infantry Division.

    Smith, a Palmyra, Pa. resident, explained that citizen-soldiers have the additional challenge of essentially balancing two lives.

    “We challenge ourselves to be the best soldiers and the best citizens that we can,” said Smith. “It can be daunting, because we have both civilian and military responsibilities, and our families have to make those transitions and readjustments right along with us.”

    As a battalion commander, it goes without saying that Smith is a very busy man. The deployment operations tempo is high across the greater Gulf region. The 28th Infantry Division is responsible for providing support for up to 10,000 troops and four brigades across a geographic area the size of the United States.

    As a deployed battalion company commander, Smith’s duties have him in the office early and back to his rack late for much of his six-day work week.

    He makes decisions all day, every day which impact the lives of his troops and his job can be stressful, even without being deployed. One of the most important decisions Smith has made is to set a good example for his “Joes” when it comes to resilience.

    “We’re here on an important and serious mission,” said Smith. “Resiliency is an essential aspect of mission readiness. Soldiers need to take a brief pause from the daily grind of their duties to re-energize and refocus. When we do this, it’s not only good for ourselves and the mission, but it helps us to keep a more healthy perspective and keep positive interactions with our families across the distances during our deployment.”

    Not only does Smith keep up with a grueling schedule of meetings and tasks, but he is also responsible for the safety, well-being and operational capabilities of more than 500 soldiers.

    To build personal resilience into his deployment, Smith uses after work hours to stay on top of his fitness, learn a new instrument and be socially involved.

    While fitness and learning a new instrument are a matter of scheduling, determination and making time, staying socially involved requires moving out of familiar comforts, broadening social circles and engaging in unfamiliar leisure activities.

    As one of the facilitators and hosts of the Camp Arifjan, 2018 Pacific Island Heritage Month in late May, Smith went about his duties with the same gusto he gives his steel drums and gym workouts. He learned the Haka!

    The Haka is an ancient Maori war dance. The dance displays tribal pride, unity and strength. Although it has roots in the battlefield, it is also a ritual part of peaceful gatherings. The dance includes posturing, rhythmic body slapping and foot stamping, as well as chanting, eye-bulging and tongue protrusion.

    Donning a white tank top adorned with a Kukui Nut Lei and a flashy orange sarong, Smith hit the stage with his Haka group to battle it out (all in fun) with the opposing Haka team. Dancing in a chapel filled to capacity, wearing only bright sarongs and smiles might have frightened lesser men – but Smith and his fellow Haka dancers on both teams were up to the challenge!

    The Haka team went from the stage, straight into the crowd, where they engaged soldiers and made everyone part of the celebration. At one point the crowd had an opportunity to learn to Haka clap.

    Smith has been a Soldier for the past 27 years. Unlike new troops with young families, Smith and his family have previously been apart on birthdays, holidays and other special times. Still, being unable to be personally present for emotional support, or to lend a hand around the house, can be hard for any soldier to cope with.

    Steel drums, such as those heard in music of the Pacific Island regions, can sometimes be heard in the late evening hours at the annex tent where Smith works as they echo a reminder of the importance of resiliency.

    Smith does his best to exemplify resilience and says it also helps him keep his cool during stressful times. He is now armed with steel drums, Haka know-how, and a fitness regimen that keeps his endorphins doing their job.

    “Whatever your rank or MOS, you’ve got to find some positive outlets—some ‘me time,’” said Smith. “Whether that’s painting, crafts, dancing or musical instruments, we all need those outlets that make us feel like human beings and keep us refreshed, resilient and ready. I encourage soldiers to explore the USO and MWR to find positive pastimes.”



    Date Taken: 08.15.2018
    Date Posted: 08.15.2018 12:27
    Story ID: 288853
    Location: CAMP ARIFJAN, KW 

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