Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion into Iraq on March 19, 2003, and while David Smith of NYA wasn’t exactly at the tip of the spear, he wasn’t far behind.
Twenty-six years old at the time and a West Point graduate, Smith was based in Germany as the executive officer of 1-35 Armor, a company of 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks, when the war began. Shortly after he and his wife Cherie welcomed their son Tyler into the world in January, and just months before his family was scheduled to end a three-year stint in Germany and return to the United States, Smith’s unit went on stop loss and received orders to deploy to Kuwait.
While the invasion kicked off in March and heavy fighting lasted through April, Smith’s unit was completing field exercises and loading its gear. He arrived in Kuwait on May 2, the day after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, and was sent to Camp New Jersey.
“Kuwait is just a bunch of sand. There’s oil, where people and cities are, and everything else is just sand,” Smith remembered. “Camp New Jersey was out in the middle of nowhere. We were there for just over three weeks out in tents. It was hot. Every day it seemed like there was a sand storm.”
On one memorable day, the crews took their tanks on live firing exercises out into the desert while the temperature soared to 134 degrees. With nowhere to find relief from the sun, the crews spent a lot of time underneath the turrets, passing the time by playing cards.
On May 24 the unit loaded its tanks onto transports and headed north into Iraq. While the initial invasion force had been fiercely opposed at times, Smith’s company had an uneventful journey, punctuated at times by the sight of destroyed Iraqi military equipment.
“When we drove up we had two guys in the cab and two in the tank. We weren’t really expecting anything,” said Smith. “3rd ID had pushed through up to Baghdad and secured everything. There was some [wreckage] along the side of the road, but we never stopped. We just kept going.”
To see the rest of this story, see this week’s edition of the NYA Times.