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Don’t try this at home

July 11, 2009
By Howard Riley,

Quit school, join the U.S. Army, pass the GED, earn an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree; become the Gulfstream III Pilot-in-Command responsible for the worldwide transportation of the U.S. Army Commanding General Europe; on other occasions you may be transporting members of Congress around the world including Senators Obama, Clinton and Kennedy.

Oh, yes, and at the same time you are the Instructor and Instrument Examiner responsible for the training of six other pilots.

Ron Butler, the famous Lake Placid Restaurateur, soon to be inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame, put me onto this story about a young man who worked for him at his Howard Johnson's Restaurant, washing dishes at the tender age of 14.

Article Photos

Chief Warrant Officer Philip Patrick Smith
(Photo provided)

That man is Philip Patrick Smith, born and raised in Lake Placid. Through telephone conversations and e-mails comes this incredible story of smarts and tenacity that should inspire all who read it. But before you read on, this quote from Smith says it all: "While I can say that my career choices have worked for me I cannot recommend them for others. While I have not always done the right thing in life, I have always done what I thought was right."

The first piece of his story I will summarize and then let the man tell it in his own words.


Smith joins the Army

Smith left Lake Placid High School and joined the Army in July 1974. He wanted to travel, and out of curiosity stopped at the local recruiter's station to ask about skills one could acquire in the Army. He discovered a GED was equivalent to a high school diploma and asked the Recruiter if he could schedule such a test.

Smith said the recruiter looked puzzled but called him in a few weeks from Albany, told him to come down and take the test, the Army would pay for the trip. It was just what he was looking for - the travel was starting, he would finish school early, and he was being paid. Smith said, "Being paid while gaining experience or education became a cornerstone for the remainder of my career, which lasted 34 years."

Basic Training was completed at Fort Dix, N.J. with little difficulty by doing a lot of push-ups, completing the tasks of the day and, as Smith put it, "staying out of the spotlight." He was promoted to Private Second Class, took several aptitude tests and was sent to Fort Eustis, Va., to become a helicopter mechanic. Smith said this direction was "based on luck or aptitude, some things we will never know." He had enlisted for only two years so he was not guaranteed schools or a particular job.


Getting an education

After five years of service Smith was a Sergeant and had completed his associate's degree at Central Texas University. He was interested in flying, was accepted for flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala., and again he was motivated by being paid to go to school. He graduated from flight school and began working on his bachelor's degree so he could be competitive for future promotions.

Upon completing his bachelor's degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Andrews AFB, Md. Smith tells what happened next:

"Upon completion of this degree I was approached by my commanding officer who offered me the position of Company Executive Officer, a position normally held by a commissioned officer.

Additionally, he encouraged me to apply for Officers Candidate School (OCS). Although the thought of retiring as a Colonel did make financial sense, the jobs associated with that rank clearly had their disadvantages. As a warrant officer, it was almost a guarantee to always be assigned to a flying job, not true as a commissioned officer. I just needed to evaluate why I stayed in the Army and the choice was clear; it was no longer just about money.

"To be successful it helps to be content with who you are and what you do. As a result I retired at the rank of chief warrant officer five with more than 34 years of service. During my career, I had the opportunity to fly numerous types of helicopters and all of the Army airplanes, which includes the very advanced Gulfstream Business Jet. While operating these jets, I flew in every continent and provided transportation service to many of our nation's senior generals and congressional members."

Smith is the son of Pat Smith and the late Philip D. Smith of 39 McKinley Street in Lake Placid. Pat worked at Howard Johnson's for 30 years.


This column will be continued next week: more about the Army and where he is now.



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