Courage Through Adversity and Blindness: Captain Scotty Smiley’s Incredible Leadership Story

by Jim Taggart September 20, 2010

From Changing Winds

There are many great leadership stories out there, and there will be many more in the years to come. Perhaps I have a bias towards men and women in uniform who serve our countries selflessly, enduring incredibly harsh physical environments and dangers when deployed to combat operations. The old saying “Old men crave war; young men (and women) fight it” is still so true. Just look at the 5,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq and the hundreds in Afghanistan; Canada itself has had over 150 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Then there are the thousands of soldiers who have been injured, some horribly, both physically and emotionally. We have yet to see the consequences of the emotional trauma; it will take years.

I’m a long-time fan of CBS Sunday Morning, a television show that takes a non-glorified approach when it does human interest stories. A recent show profiled Captain Scotty Smiley, a West Point graduate, who was almost killed in the spring of 2005 when a suicide car bomber detonated his cargo only a few metres from Smiley. A platoon leader, he survived but lost the sight in both eyes due to the shards of glass that pierced them in the explosion. Smiley had only graduated in 2003, and now his life had been radically altered.

Rather than accept a medical retirement from the US Army, Captain Smiley refused to let his new disability prevent him from continuing to serve his country. He worked steadfastly at rebuilding his physical conditioning and later earned an MBA. He has remained with the US Army, teaching leadership studies at West Point and commanding the Warrior Transition Unit for injured soldiers.

Captain Smiley has a gorgeous wife, Tiffany Elliott, and two little boys, both of whom he will never see. However, he was present at their births and was the first to know their gender, thanks to the attending physician who placed Smiley’s hand in the necessary place.

During the interview with CBS journalist Tracey Smith, Captain Smiley became choked up when he expressed that he finds it hard every day knowing that he’ll never see his wife again and will never know what his sons look like. And amazingly when asked by Smith about whether he thinks he’s accomplished a lot, Captain Smiley replied modestly that there’s always room for improvement.

Captain Smiley hasn’t just surprised everyone who knows him with his abundant energy and laser focus to achieve extraordinary goals within the US Army, he has also done other incredible feats, such as running a marathon.

If you’re captivated by this story of a courageous young man who exemplifies the best his country has to offer, then check out his upcoming book Hope Unseen, which tells the story of the U.S. Army’s first blind active duty officer.

As I noted at the beginning there are many other stories of courageous men and women in the U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces. And there will be many more. Unfortunately, these heroes are almost without exclusion the very young, some just out of high school or college. Their deaths and injuries are especially horrific when one considers that they have just started to experience life. As the father of four adult “kids” and grandfather of two, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain their families experience when informed that a loved one serving his or her country has been killed or horribly injured.

The story of Captain Scotty Smiley is all that much more uplifting when you realize that he has broken the barrier to those who have wanted to remain active with the Armed Forces but who have been forced to accept a medical discharge. Through his efforts and ongoing sacrifice for his country, let’s hope that he inspires others who unfortunately find themselves disabled from serving in combat.

Only our individual faith in freedom can keep us free. (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Download my free leadership e-book:Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership Using a Principle-Based Approach

Award-winning, community based leadership development for your organisation.