Irving, TX – Retired Staff Sgt. Eric M. Smith received an awards upgrade of his Silver Star to the Navy Cross in a ceremony in Irving, Texas, Sept. 14. Smith’s Silver Star, earned in 2004, was upgraded during a Department of Defense review of approximately 1,400 combat valor awards awarded since 2001.
In January 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ordered a review of combat valor awards issued during the Global War on Terrorism including Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross and Silver Stars. Carter expressed concern that some service members awarded may not have been properly recognized for their heroism.
Smith, a Waxahachie, Texas, native, enlisted into the Marine Corps in May 2001 from Recruiting Station Forth Worth and graduated Recruit Training in August of the same year. In early September 2001, he started infantry training with Company B, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-West. On Sept. 11, Smith’s platoon was checking out gas masks from supply when the twin towers were struck and at that moment he said he knew he would not be serving a peacetime enlistment.
Smith was recognized for his heroic efforts while serving as a squad leader with second platoon, Company E, Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On April 6, 2004, as part of the company’s quick reaction force, Smith’s platoon was ordered to move north and reinforce a squad which was under attack. While en route to assist the squad, two tactical vehicles were ambushed, leaving his platoon commander critically wounded. Following the attack, Smith took command of the platoon and led them 50 meters across open ground to covered positions while under heavy machine gun and rock-propelled grenade fire. Smith then ran back across the field to evacuate his platoon commander and his weapons. Smith proceeded to coordinate and lead a counterattack against the insurgent forces by employing machine guns and the platoon’s 7-ton truck to free the isolated squad. He then facilitated an evacuation for the casualties and formulated the withdrawal plan for all units to return safely to the command post.
“It’s not written about,” said Maj. Gen. Paul J. Kennedy at the conclusion of the citation reading. “And they continued to fight for five and a half more months after the sixth of April and for those who couldn’t, they brought them home.
“Eric, your nation is honoring you for your specific duty,” continued Kennedy. “but you wear that medal to represent the thousand others that you fought alongside.”
The ceremony was held at the Veterans Memorial Park in Irving and was met with an overwhelming show of support. In attendance was Smith’s wife, son, extended family, members of his battalion, co-workers, the Irving mayor and city council members, in addition to dozens of others.
Following Smith’s active duty service, he found his purpose in firefighting. He currently works as a lieutenant paramedic with the Irving Fire Department and also serves as a member of Texas Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue team as a technical search specialist.
"Lt. Eric Smith served our country as a Marine with honor, integrity, and passion,” said Victor Conley, the fire chief for Irving Fire Department. “He now serves the city of Irving as a firefighter and continues to display the same impressive traits.”
The Navy Cross is the second highest military decoration that may be awarded to a member of the United States Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. It is awarded for extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
Smith is now one of 40 Marines to receive the Navy Cross since Sept. 11, 2001.
“I am honored and humbled to receive the upgraded award of the Navy Cross,” said Smith. “I understand that this places me in a category of Marines that I would have never imagined to be a part of. I firmly believe that I was an ordinary Marine placed in an extraordinary situation.”