As the second hottest summer on record, 2010 has been a scorcher, but even the 106-112 degree heat indexes pale in comparison to the temperatures endured by one local service woman serving in Iraq. Ash Flat native Lidia Smith said, during the last few weeks, the temperatures have hovered at 120 degrees and above, with so much humidity, she said, "It feels like we are in a sauna."
Through a unique program implemented by the United States Army, those serving overseas are being connected with their hometown via media outlets such as newspapers and radio. Hometown Heros allows military personnel to share their story with those back home and, through the process, familiarize civilians with the military and help clear up some stereotypes and misconceptions while helping them with homesickness. Through an intermediary at the soldiers home base, they are matched with media outlets who interview the soldiers and allow them to tell their stories of service to those living in their home towns.
Smith is a 1989 Highland High School graduate who entered the Army shortly after completing school. She said she served three years and got out of the military, only to reenter in 1995. Smith has now been in the Army for 16 years and can possibly retire after serving 23 years. Stationed at Fort Reilly, Kan., Smith has served in Korea, Germany and now Basra, Iraq, where she has been deployed since January.
As a woman, and mother of three, undoubtedly, Smith sacrifices a lot to do the very important job she performs daily. She is currently at the rank of E6, which she explained in more familiar terms is staff sergeant. Smith's job in the Army is very important and the things she does to keep the troops serving on the front lines safe is amazing.
Simply called Comsec, Smith works in communications security. She is in charge of the security of all the radios in vehicles and anywhere else communications are needed on post.
She laughed saying, "I am the key custodian." This is a very important job as she must sign out every key.
A key, Smith said, is really not the metal item used for opening doors, but is actually computer software that is downloaded allowing radio transmissions to remain secure and free from interference from enemy sources. She said the keys must be changed monthly so, at the beginning of each month, Smith said, "It gets very hectic around here." Everyone on base is required to come to Smith for the keys, she said, not just the Army, but also Navy, Air Force and Marines. She issues the generated keys and is responsible for their security.
Her everyday life isn't what many would think of a soldier serving in Iraq. It is a job she and many others perform to keep the troops safe and make things work efficiently. The hardest part: living without her children.
One thing that surprised her on the post in Basra is that Iraqis actually are employed there. She said her male coworkers treat her and other females in the military very well. She said they never leave a female alone with an Iraqi, although they are considered friendly.
Her long work day begins early, as she wakes up at 5 a.m. or in military terminology, 0500. Smith then performs 45 minutes of physical training before arriving at work at 7 a. m. and she is on the job until 6 p.m. She explained, no one is allowed to leave post unless they are on a mission and sometimes her job requires her to leave to pick up shipments. The post itself is a self-sufficient city leaving soldiers with little reason to exit the base. She said she feels very safe on post and explained the division headquarters where she works is a "hardened location," one of the most secure buildings there. She said there has been a rocket attack on post, but said, "You probably couldn't even feel it if it hit this building."
After work, Smith said she may go to the post exchange, or PX, as military families commonly refer to the store that houses many of the supplies the families need. She said the post also has a USO where they can watch movies and have computer Internet access.
She said the military feeds her very well. Laughing, she said the stereotype that all soldiers eat are rations is not true. She said all the food is free and they have four meals a day always, served buffet style. She said, "You can eat as much as you want. If you want six steaks, some crab legs and shrimp, it's all free." Smith said each day there is a different type of food, from Mexican to Southern and Chinese and anything in between. On post, there is also a Pizza Hut, Subway and Burger King and Smith explained there is a new store called the Oasis, which recently opened.
Smith said they receive a lot of care packages and most people wouldn't think it is so welcoming to receive things like lip balm or snacks. She said one of the weirdest things about Iraq is its dust storms. The dust is so thick it looks like fog and makes it hard to breathe. During the storms, she said the sun is red.
Through a program called Adopt a U.S. Soldier, Smith has recently been adopted by a woman in Georgia. She said it is a great program. Smith mentioned one of the hardest to get is her favorite shampoo, Herbal Essense. Smith has to order it because they do not carry it at the PX, as only the leading brands are stocked at the commissary and, when a new group of soldiers arrives, things that are in high demand go quickly. Although they get in new orders every two weeks, sometimes things like fans are hard to find.
She said she is housed in a containerized unit with a roommate. Most shocking to some is the fact that they actually have air conditioning in these mobile units.
She said she was surprised how many people from Afghanistan work on post. There are also a lot of Australian and British civilians who, she said, are very friendly and come over to the USO to play dominoes.
She said chocolate is really the only thing the soldiers can't get in Iraq and it is a treat she would love to have once in a while to relieve stress.
Smith said she hopes to be home for Christmas.
Her sister, Maria, is caring for her children whose ages are 9, 12 and 18.
She loves to hear from her old friends and people from home. Through her Facebook page, she is able to maintain some sense of normalcy and keep up with her family and friends.
Smith's father, Buddy, and brother, Buddy Jr., both live in Cherokee Village. Sister, Maria. lives in Kansas, sister, Geneva, in Little Rock and brother, James, lives in Florida.