Stephanie Smith is a bad ass. She serves in the United States Air Force Security Forces – and has served three tours (one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.) When she isn’t manning a giant machine gun, jumping out of a plane or brandishing her frighteningly large combat knife – she can be found headbanging to metal, getting a new tattoo or enjoying a cold one with family and friends. Guys, lose the cheesy pick-up lines – this fierce lady will literally break your heart… IN HALF.
SS: It all started with my first air show, I was in awe of the Blue Angels and all their aerobatic glory. At the ripe old age of five, I had my whole life planned: I was going to be the first women pilot for the Blue Angels and I was going to marry Bobby Hatfield. Sadly, things with Bobby never panned out once I realized he was older than my dad, but my desire to soar the skies never really left me. After high school and after some college classes I realized that myself nor my parents were going to be able to afford for me to go to school so I thought: why not have the military pay for it? I tend to be a rather impulsive decision maker so it wasn’t something that I’d been planning on my whole life, but once I really starting considering it as an option all those memories of childhood came flooding back and I knew without a doubt the Air Force was were I wanted to go. Granted, I realized the Blue Angels were attached to the Navy, but the thought of living on a boat for most of my adult life, surrounded by seamen, just didn’t appeal to me.
BOJ: What was your family’s thoughts on making this your career?
SS: The folks were quite a bit apprehensive about me joining the service at first. To be quite honest, I’m not so sure they really believed I’d last much longer than a few days in BMT (Basic Military Training). But I think once I’d been gone for a few weeks, sans any mental breakdowns, they started to come to the realization that this could be a legitimate career path for me. Today, they are my biggest supporters and remind me every time we speak of how proud I make them every single day.
BOJ: Where did you start your training? What did it entail?
SS: Let’s back track for a minute. After a several weeks long process it came time to choose my career. So naturally I said whichever career field would help me make the easiest transition to becoming a pilot later. The guy took one look at me, opened my file, and said: oh you can’t be a fighter pilot, you’re too short. And just like that, my dreams were dashed. I almost walked away right then and there, but I figured I’d already gotten this far, might as well go through with it. I was shown a list of alternate careers I could potentially go into and chose the one that would guarantee me the quickest ticket out of there. Boy, did that end up being a poor life choice. I began BMT less than two weeks later in San Antonio, Texas. In July. BMT is the generalized training every single airman goes through at Lackland AFB. At the time when I went through it was 6.5 weeks long. The days were long, filled with physical training in the mornings, classes during the day, chores in the afternoon, and maybe if you were lucky a few minutes before lights out to write a quick note to a loved one to let them know you were still alive. We learned basic marksman techniques and also how to put on a gas mask properly so when you walked into the gas chamber you didn’t immediately begin crying due to the tear gas. Looking back on it, it was such a blur. The days seemed to all run together because for the most part they were all exactly the same. After BMT is when everyone will go into their chosen career field’s specialized training. Most people go to other bases to finish out their training requirements but lucky me, I got to stay right where I was for Security Forces training. All told I spent about six months in Texas.
BOJ: Where have you served in active duty?
SS: I served my first tour in Iraq and two consecutive tours to Afghanistan. Most overseas locations aren’t the greatest, but I will say one thing for Iraq: the food was amazing! Wish I could say the same for Afghanistan since it’s really the only place to see and be seen. Living conditions were slightly better in Afghanistan, the facilities were nicer too, as most of them were actual buildings compared to the tent city I grew accustomed to in Iraq.
BOJ: What was your daily schedule like abroad?
SS: Talk about every day is exactly the same, while deployed your daily routine becomes painfully repetitive. Any varying combination of work, gym, eat, sleep, repeat is what we deal with day in and day out. We usually work five to six days in a row with one day off to recoup. Our shifts at work last anywhere from ten to twelve hours or sometimes even fourteen or fifteen.
BOJ: What is your most memorable experience to date?
SS: The most rewarding experiences I’ve had deployed were definitely in Iraq. We got to go around from village to village and visit their schools to hand out school supplies. The joy on those kids faces, over a pencil and some paper, will always be one of the memories I hold dear. I also got to ride a camel while I was there, and that was pretty rad too.
BOJ: Any duties you disliked performing?
SS: There aren’t really any duties I dislike more than any other. I’d have to say the part I hate the most about deploying is the travel. It’s always a nightmare. First of all, the amount of mandatory crap they give us to bring overseas is ridiculous. On average each military member brings anywhere from 3-5 bags a piece, typically weighing anywhere from 60-100 pounds and that’s not including weapons cases. For my most recent tour I was bestowed the honor of being a machine gunner, I could hardly contain my excitement when they told me that one. In addition to the standard carry weapons everyone has over there (M4 and an M9) I also got to lug around a machine gun during travel.
BOJ: How often did you have downtime? What did you do while not on duty?
SS: As I said before, we normally worked five or six days in a row with one day off. The days off are really just a chance to catch up on a little extra sleep. There isn’t a whole lot to do for leisure while deployed. Make a few phone calls back home to family and loved ones, maybe watch a movie on your laptop, or walk down to the Green Bean for a cup of joe. Home station my off duty life is a lot more fun. Typically spent head banging at a concert, lounging around Virginia Beach in the summertime, and hanging out with some of the amazing people I’ve had the privilege of meeting in my six years of active service.
BOJ: What would you say to those looking to begin a career in the USAF?
SS: My advice would be to do your potential job research! You don’t want to be left high and dry like me after several weeks going through the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) process, only to find out the job you’ve been planning on doing this whole time requires you to grow another half a foot. Yes, I’m still a little bitter about not being able to become a pilot. Take your time deciding as well. I could have picked a much different career path, but since I was impatient for a training slot to open up, I picked Security Forces because it was the quickest ticket out of town. The Air Force catches a lot of flak for being the cushiest of the military branches, and that may apply to the majority of the Air Force, with the exception of Security Forces and a select few other career fields. The majority of the base operates on a Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. with every weekend, holiday, and assorted “training day” off. Not my career field. We work, come hell or high water, round the clock, every single day to protect the base and it’s assets. We don’t know what weekends or holidays are unless we request the time off well in advance. To those of you who genuinely want to help people, irregardless of the long, crappy hours and want to deploy a lot, Security Forces is for you!