With all the attention focused on the financial markets recently, the stories that exemplify the greatness of America and its people have gone by the wayside. One such story is far too important to be lost in the frenzy.
Last week in El Paso, Texas; a new A-Star helicopter was dedicated and placed into service. And while that might not seem like a big deal to many of us, it was. This helicopter bore a seal with the name Robert F. Smith and his call-sign X-Ray 8014 inscribed upon it. This seal is to remain assigned to and displayed on this CBP aircraft for the entirety of its service.
This is only the second time in our country's history such an honor has been bestowed by our government. A special event indeed.
It is with a great sense of responsibility I introduce the man for which this honor was bestowed.
Robert F. Smith was a native of Harrisburg, Pa. He attended and graduated from Penn State University in 1982. In 1983, he enrolled in the Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., where he was commissioned as an ensign and received his naval aviator's wings in August of that year.
He flew fixed wing jets and helicopters with the Navy for the next eight years and even appeared as an extra in one of my all time favorite movies, "Top Gun."
Following the Gulf war, he was discharged from the Navy and became a pilot with the U.S. Customs Service. For the next 16 years he served on special drug interdiction missions in Central and South America, supported airspace security in the Capitol and flew rescue missions in hurricane Katrina. By any account, Bob's life was about service to a country and a people he loved very much.
On May 22, 2007 (two days before his 47th birthday), Smith was flying a recognizance mission near El Paso, Texas, when he spotted three illegal aliens crossing the border. He radioed the Border Patrol on the ground, and they arrested the three men. At that moment, a stone, bullet or something similar hit the tail of his helicopter, and it began spinning out of control.
He was only about 200 feet in the air, so he could have set down safely in a yard below, but he saw three small children playing. Bob made an instant "life" decision and somehow got his helicopter high enough to get over the roof of one more building and took it down into a truck parked in a lot. He turned at the last second so that his passenger was above, hanging in his straps. His fellow pilots don't know how he did it. The passenger survived, but Bob, hitting first, was killed instantly. The mother of those children was watching from her back porch and thought her children were gone.
It is no surprise to those who knew Bob that he would put others safety ahead of his own. His life was about serving a cause greater than himself. Indeed a great personal trait in the world today.
In his speech to the nation on immigration, May 29, 2007, President Bush said:
"Before I say anything about immigration, I want to tell you about an American hero, Robert Smith … Realizing that four people are alive today as a result of one man giving his ultimate sacrifice, The U.S. Customs Service D.H.S., for only the second time in history, has permanently emblazoned Helicopter N852BP with the CBP Memorial Insignia: ROBERT F.SMITH X-RAY 8014. In his honor and memory, AIA Smith's CBP call sign will remain assigned to him and displayed on a CBP aircraft forevermore."
On a few rare occasions in my life I have had the distinct honor to meet or talk to the families behind such great men as Robert F. Smith. Each time I realize the sense of service in heroes is birthed at an early age by moms and dads who love God, love their family and love this great nation.
When I received an e-mail from Bob's dad, Robert F Smith Sr., it took all I had to not cry before an overwhelming sense of pride and gratefulness poured out of every fiber of my being. For it is men like Bob and his dad that make this nation great. You will not see their name in lights or see them on the talk shows selling books. But they are the backbone of the greatest nation in world history.
When Senior went to the dedication on Sept. 29, he had a simple request. His words are below:
"I asked Gen. Michael Kostelnik, the assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs, who spoke at the dedication, if I could fly in the helicopter on its maiden flight. To my great surprise and delight, he ordered the El Paso C.O. to make it happen. I, along with Bob's widow Bridget, got to fly in the helicopter on its maiden flight over the city of El Paso, Fort Bliss and along the Rio Grande River which is the Mexican border in Texas. Just about an hour flight. It was AWESOME!"
While I could stop here and feel totally confident you know what a great man Robert F. Smith was, I would be leaving the most important part of the story out.
Robert F. Smith, while serving his country, was also serving a higher authority. One that is often mocked in the public square by rich entertainers like Bill Maher and misrepresented by the Rev. Wrights of the world. Robert worked for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The Prince of Peace who one day has promised to return for those who love Him.
So while Bob's mom and dad are very proud of the service Bob provided his nation, they are more proud that their son's name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Therefore, they have the promise that one day they, along with Bob's pilot buddies, will be reunited.
Senior also reminded me, while addressing a group of pilots, that the Book of Ezekiel 36-39 reads like a modern day paper given the events that are unfolding. The scriptures tell us that when Jesus comes back we will see him riding on a white horse.
According to Senior, "Don't you be surprised when you see Him coming back in a white helicopter, and you know who will be flying that helicopter."
I agree with Senior.
Note: Many thanks for the sacrifice made by the Smith family and all the families of America who have lost loved ones in their service to our country. Special thanks to Robert Senior who sent me an e-mail that changed me.
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