LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - United States Army Veteran Jeffrey Smith has led quite an interesting life serving his country for over 20 years.
Smith's father was the one who truly inspired him as a young child.
"My father was in the Air Force when I was a kid and something ever since I can remember, I always had an infinity towards the military and for whatever reason specifically the army. " Smith said.
Smith who served during Operation Just Cause Panama, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring freedom, was also an executive officer in Fort Polk Louisiana where he helped train National Guard and reserve units.
The transition for smith into the army was actually quite seamless. He met his future wife in high school and was also involved with ROTC in college and went straight into the army.
"I went in as an officer, went in as a second lieutenant. Like all second lieutenants in the army the first thing that you do after you graduate college is you go off to an officer basic course. I did that at Fort Benning Georgia then went down to Panama, was in Panama and served throughout Latin America for a little over three years." Smith said.
Smith experienced his first dose of low intensity combat while doing patrols along the Honduran Nicaragua border.
"I thought I was prepared, looking back on it in high and sight no one's ever prepared. " Smith said.
Smith had a break in service in his 30's taking him away from his brothers and immediately regretted it but felt a void he was recalled to duty in 2003
"I was a brigade executive officer second in charge of a brigade of about 4,000 people we processed during my three years, two and a half years that I was there. Processed over 16,000 soldiers as well as our 4,000 and we lost quite a few." Smith said.
That loss took a toll on Smith upon retirement.
He returned home to his wife and 4 children and had a hard time adjusting back to civilian life.
"One of the things that comes I think is the embarrassment as an individual to say wow I'm not a hundred percent, I'm not functioning the way I should be." Smith said.
Smith lost his father within 6 months after getting out and then his marriage ended in divorce 6 months later. He couldn't sleep at night and began isolating himself from large crowds because they make him uncomfortable.
"I've walked out of movie theaters before. I just get a sense that again it's those boundaries, that safety net that I felt I had in the army I don't have out here. " Smith said.
Smith found hope and support through his 4 children and his brother who two years ago helped him find a job at the Angelina College Procurement Assistance Center.
"We help small businesses as well as veterans in small business get into government contracting. " Smith said.
He also found solace through the Military Veterans Peer Network, bringing him a since of belonging in world.
"It's not part of the system, it's not part of the government, it's not something being thrust upon me as a Band-Aid fix. It's somebody in an organization that's actually out there that's concerned about me." Smith said.
Smith has come a long way over his two years being involved with the MVPN and learned a lot about himself in the process.
"Just because you leave one profession doesn't mean you have to give up your since of calling, your ability to give back to the community and that's what my biggest fear was is I had lost my ability to give to people and the truth is no you never lose that."Smith said.
Given this new outlook on life Smith hopes that by sharing his story he may be able to inspire others who may be going through the same thing.
"When you're going into the military don't forget that, don't forget that it's a passion. Whatever reason you're joining the military, don't forget the passion that led you to join that. Once you get out don't forget that since of trust and don't think that you can't ever find it again, it's still out there." Smith said.