Graduate is making his mark with VoteVets.org
"We're trying to make sure veterans are not adversely affected by what's going on in Washington," Smith said during a recent interview. "We've got to make sure Congress does not take away from veterans while cutting the budget. It's our mission."
Smith has risen quickly through the VoteVets.org organization since graduating from UAHuntsville in December with a degree in political science. History is his minor.
Actually, his involvement with VoteVets.org began in 2007 while Smith was still serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He said skills and knowledge he gained at UAHuntsville had him prepared to make the most of an opportunity to increase his status within the organization.
"I've worked with them in some capacity for the last four years, as a volunteer for a while and then part time managing the web presence while I was attending UAH," Smith said." When I graduated, this opportunity came about and I've tried to take advantage."
Smith is now director of outreach for VoteVets.org, which was founded in 2006 and has already topped 10,000 members. He oversees the organization's blog.
"We're seeking new voices nationwide and ways to carry the message to our constituents," he said. "We want to educate and advocate for veterans."
The modern technology would tend to have more appeal to veterans of recent conflicts like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Smith insists VoteVets.org caters to the needs of all veterans. "The difference is today's climate is more visual than previous eras," Smith said.
Part of his responsibility includes writing email blasts to members, making them aware of pending legislation in Congress and where senators, representatives and the president stand on issues affecting veterans. The group, which builds itself as being non-partisan, will play an active role in next year's election.
"We will be watching closely to make sure politicians are giving the proper priority to the needs of veterans," Smith said. "We will hold them accountable.
"We also want to help elect vets of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In general, we want to influence the next election in a favorable way and to help elect candidates who know the issues and should be involved in making those decisions instead of people who have never worn the uniform and do not know the facts."
Kathy Hawk, chair of the Department of Political Science at UAHuntsville, says she is not surprised by Smith's success. She taught Smith in three classes and considered him to be a "strong student."
"His greatest asset was that he's very active, so he understood the courses he took on a deeper level," Hawk said. "In many ways, he was able to apply the things he was learning and working on through his involvement in activities such as political campaigns and his involvement in veterans groups."
Hawk said Smith would be successful in numerous other careers if he chose to because "he has that personality that he's going to make things happen instead of sitting back and waiting for something to happen. He has ideas and the ambition to make this world a better place, and I encourage my students to also think that way."
Smith, who was raised in a northwest Florida near Pensacola, spent 2 1/2 years at UAHuntsville, having transferred numerous hours of college credit from his studies while in the U.S. Army.
"All of my time spent in liberal arts at UAH was very positive," he said. "I had classes with some of the most competent and respected professors anyone could have."
Hawk said she was impressed recently when Smith was interviewed on MSNBC about President Obama's military strategy for Afghanistan.
"My first thought, to be honest, was 'wow, he cleans up pretty well.'"
On a more serious note, Hawk said Smith made his points well and was precise.
"He's certainly not intimidated by a camera, and he is someone who was never afraid to speak his mind," Hawk said. "At the same time, he also understands the other side which makes him more prepared and more credible. Knowing the other side of the issue allows him to explain his position in the strongest, most effective way."
Smith, who now lives in Denver, possesses another valuable asset for his position at VoteVets.org - his military service. He was in the 82nd Airborne unit and spent 14 months in Afghanistan between February 2007 and April 2008. He said the on-the-ground experience is shared by numerous others involved in the organization.
"It seemed to me that Afghanistan was a worthy fight when I got there in early spring 2007. We were given resources where we could win the fight. The next year is when we saw a shift. It seemed that a war of necessity was being neglected for a war of choice in Iraq. Had we sent an additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan instead of sending them to Iraq, we would have doubled the number of troops we had at the time. Instead, Afghanistan, while I was there, had become increasingly more violent."
Smith said it would be wrong for the United States to abandon Afghanistan, but he sees the strategy changing to more counter-terrorism missions. He said most people in the know agree that the international terrorist group Al-Qaeda has fewer than 300 members now. He suggests using precision air strikes to eliminate them.
Smith said he ultimately wants to be in a position to work on policy that will make America safer, and that doesn't mean "you throw a lot of money to go to war because someone said something bad about us.
"We need to study issues and develop official policy that makes our country safer."
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