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Face of Defense: Soldier Returns After 15-Year Break to be Close to Troops

By Ken Hall
Special to American Forces Press Service

U.S. ARMY GARRISON HUMPHREYS, South Korea, April 3, 2009 – Some people just can’t get the military out of their system – nor do they want to.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Dianne Smith, right, an administrative soldier in the 3rd Military Intelligence Battlion, talks about her return to the Army noncommissioned officer corps after a 15-year break in service with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and 8th U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Winzenried at Humphreys Garrison, South Korea, Nov. 25, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Ken Hall

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That is the case with Staff Sgt. Dianne Smith, who has re-joined the Army after a 15-year break as a way to show her patriotism and sense of duty to her country again during a troubled time.

Smith, an intelligence analyst with 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion, recently returned to active duty to share her experience and leadership skills with new enlisted soldiers.

She completed basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala. – then the Army Women’s Corps headquarters -- in 1978. Following advanced individual training and her initial assignments in 1984, she found herself stationed at Yongin, South Korea, where she met her husband, Tim. They have been married 25 years.

"I was a signal intelligence analyst during my first 13 years of active-duty service, but the best job I had before I got out was platoon sergeant," Smith said. "This is the job that epitomizes the noncommissioned officer position or me, and why I've come back."

Platoon sergeants, she added, have hands-on, direct contact with soldiers.

"You are the first one to know if your soldiers have problems, or if they've accomplished something, and I love being connected with troops,” she said. “And next to [being a] sergeant major, I believe this is the best job in the Army."

After training at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., last year, Smith rejoined the Army's military intelligence community. Returning to South Korea for her first active-duty tour in 25 years has been more than a typical overseas duty assignment, she said.

"My husband and I met while serving here in 1984, and it's like a homecoming," she said. "Returning to active duty after all these years was a major commitment I could have never made without his unwavering support."

During her early years of Army service, Smith had mentors who now are nearly gone from the Army rolls: Vietnam Veterans.

"They taught me a lot of things about what I could actually do, what I could endure, and what I could accomplish and overcome," she said. "When I began my first Army enlistment, I was a scared kid from Kentucky. And I was pushed beyond what I thought I could do, but found out I could do far more.

“To see soldiers like I was who come in today and don't have confidence in what they can do or are not aware of what they do,” she continued, “my job as an NCO is to push them and encourage them, because we can do so much more than we believe."

In November, Smith met here with an NCO whose service predates her own. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston has served since 1975.

"SMA Preston asked me about why I came back in, and he encouraged me and welcomed me back into the NCO corps," she said. "I've met many successful people in my life, but I was as nervous as I could be, because he is the sergeant major of the Army, and the one who sets the bar for all of us and who we all strive to be.

“It was an honor for this old soldier to have those few minutes with him,” she said. “There was an understanding of all the things that are not needed to be said - because we were Army then, and we are Army now, and we're still hanging in there."

Once you've been a soldier, you have a connection with people, and no matter where you go, you share a bond because you have served, Smith said.

"I've worn a lot of different clothes to work, but there's nothing like putting on this uniform [and] being proud of it. … “It's the best job in the world, and I will continue to do the job my soldiers deserve up until the day I retire from the Army."

Smith added that female soldiers must respect themselves, treat everyone else with respect and take nothing less.

"Being a female in the military should never be used as an excuse to be less than absolutely all you can be,” she said. “We're fellow soldiers, and we drive on."

Smith said she plans to retire in 2013, and she wants caring for soldiers to be her legacy.

“I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that I took care of my soldiers,” Smith said. “I'm going to be that old veteran in the wheelchair at parades waving the American flag, proud of our soldiers marching through."

(Ken Hall works in the Humphreys Garrison public affairs office.)

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