Capt. Smith speaks to Rotary

Capt. (Rep.) James Smith spoke to the Columbia Rotary Club about his experiences in Afghanistan. Some highlights:

  • Before the speech, the club recognized my colleague Chuck Crumbo for the job he did reporting, in country, on the exploits of the 218th Brigade. Chuck accepted the well-deserved honor with typical modesty.
  • Capt. Smith told the story again of how he, at age 37, bucked the system by insisting that he be allowed to quit the JAG Corps and join the infantry — after being inspired by a visit to Ground Zero in NYC. The system bucked back, and in fact finally told him that he would have to resign his commission and start over as an enlisted man in basic training, keeping up with the 18-year-olds. Obviously, they expected him to say, "Never Mind." But he accepted the challenge, went through basic, worked his way back up to captain, and ended up leading a team that fought the Taliban alongside Afghan national police forces. (The poor-quality video below, from my phone, is the part when he was telling the story of going to Basic again.)
  • Yes, he did say the phrase, "If I run for governor." Interestingly, the subject was brought up by arch-Republican Rusty DePass. Rusty’s son served with Capt. Smith in Afghanistan, and he has warned his Dad that if the captain runs, he’s going to support him.
  • Also in the audience was Joe Wilson, and this provided another example of how military service bridges partisan gaps. (It’s a pet theory of mine that the partisan bitterness of this generation results from politics now being dominated by the post-draft — and especially post WWII — generation, and they lack that shared experience to teach them that we’re all Americans first, not Democrats or Republicans.) Anyway, Rep. Smith made a point of mentioning that Joe was his C.O. back in his JAG days.
  • As in his e-mailed reports you read on this blog, James exhibited his characteristic optimism about the future of Afghanistan, based on his experience with the children of the country. Whenever they’d roll into a village, he’d send his second-in-command to talk to the village elder, then go question a 10- or 11-year-old himself. The elder, trying to walk a tightrope between the Coalition and the Taliban, would blow smoke, such as "We last saw about a dozen Taliban a couple of weeks ago." The kid would give the straight intel, along the lines of "There were two dozen, and they rolled out of here the moment they saw you coming, just minutes ago."

It was a compelling presentation (particularly the part about how his team tracked down a Taliban leader who had been terrorizing the region), and I wish I’d had the resources at hand to have gotten the whole thing on video — good-quality video. Sorry about the lousy quality of this below…


5 thoughts on “Capt. Smith speaks to Rotary

  1. Mike Cakora

    Good for James Smith — I can’t imagine resigning a commission and starting over, especially at 37 — and I hope his optimism for Afghanistan bodes well for that place. With Musharraf’s resignation the whole area may turn even more volatile, and that would stink, bug time.
    BTW, do you think the MushMan can walk away with the keys to the nukes? You know, leave the office, turn the lights out, but keep the keys in his pocket as he heads out to wherever he’s going?
    Brad – Off topic, but did you see what the executive editor of your sister newspaper up in the other Carolina had to say about a call he got from a certain former US senator whom you took for a phony?
    Here it is. Just wondered what you thought about it and if anything like that had happened to you.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Nope. I haven’t talked with Edwards since he came to see us in 2004.

    Right after the “phony” piece, I met with one of his staffers, who indicated that he wanted to come in and talk with us again. Didn’t happen, but I don’t make a big deal about that because, unlike with Clinton and Romney, we didn’t really go out of our way to get him in.

    The staffer said the person who really wanted to talk to me was Mrs. Edwards. But that didn’t happen, anyway, so I’m thankful for that. Conversations with unhappy spouses are never pleasant. They’re righteously indignant, and I don’t have any beef with THEM, so such conversations are sort of one-sided.

    Note that John (Drescher) heard from the senator because he was trying to head off a story. Maybe it he’d had an inkling of the “phony” piece ahead of time, he would have called me. But it was just a piece I did while on vacation, and didn’t involve interaction with anyone (except for those from the past that I told of in the piece).

  3. bud

    Here’s a nice story from NPR showing what a big liar Cindy McCain is. Really, if spouses are fair game why not do some reporting on Cindy and not just Michelle Obama? Apparently Cindy has been portraying herself as an only child when in fact she has a half-sister. Why would she be such a flagrant liar about that? Apparently her half-sister is a Democrat.
    Why is this important? Only because it goes against the well orchestrated GOP spin point that the media is biased in favor of the Democrats. We’ve had tons of unfavorable coverage against Mrs. Obama but hardly any when it comes to Cindy McCain. If the media is so biased why do we not see these kinds of stories?

  4. John Wilde

    James Smith would make a great governor. But he would be better advised to stay in the house or run for the senate. South Carolina governors are toothless. And I’m not just speaking of Sanford. Granted he has made a hash of the job, but his lack of success distracts attention from the fact that no governor can accomplish much in this state.The General Assembly is where power lies. Democrats will take over sooner than anyone expects, then Smith would be sitting in the catbird’s seat.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Thanks for getting us back to the topic, John — and for using your full name.
    And thanks for bringing up one of my main themes — that we need to restructure government to put the governor in charge of the executive branch. But that’s not a reason not to run for governor. A good candidate should run, and work to change the system. And if you’re James, you might as well do that as stay in the House, now that it is arranged so clearly along partisan lines, and he’s on the wrong side of the line. As for Democrats taking over — I suspect that you are experiencing a case of Obama fever, and are missing the overall picture here in SC.
    And bud, who said spouses were fair game? Nobody here. If fact, I just said something very different from that — but we digress. Again, thanks, John, for getting us back on track.

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