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Salute Our Veterans: Zachary Smith


United States Air Force

(23 August 2004 – Present )


Zachary Smith was born on June 21, 1985, in Latrobe Pennsylvania. Zachary is the son of Greggory and Deborah. He has two older sisters, Denise and Aimee. He graduated from Blairsville High School in 2004.


On August 23, 2004, Zachary went to Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base, TX. He knew his job was going to be an Aircraft Loadmaster, but that was the first time he had ever flown on an airplane. Smith recalls, “I cut my hair and shaved my long sideburns before I left. My recruiter gave me that advice so I wouldn’t stand out to the Training Instructors (T.I.’s). It worked. When I got off the bus there were a lot of T.I.’s screaming at everyone. I watched and smiled as they singled out the guys with long hair or earrings.”


Zachary was assigned to the 321st Training Squadron, Flight 810. Even though it was only six weeks, he learned a lot and formed a strong bond with the other guys in his Flight.


After Basic Training, Zachary went to the Enlisted Aircrew Undergraduate Course. It was basically an introduction to all of the aircrew career fields. Then, he left Lackland and went to Pensacola, FL for the Water Survival Course. This training was important in case he ever had to bail out over the ocean. Most of the training was done in the Gulf of Mexico, and the water was a little cold that November.


One of the days was like parasailing, but they send you up higher and then you release from the cable and parachute into the Gulf. Once in the water, Smith had to disconnect from his chute and inflate and survive in a one-man life raft.


Next, he went to a Survival Course at Fairchild AFB, WA. It was December 2004 up in the mountains of eastern Washington. Smith reports, “we learned how to survive and evade capture in case we had to bail out in enemy territory.”


After that, Zachary went on to Altus AFB, OK for the Basic Loadmaster Training Course and the Loadmaster Initial Qualification Course. He spent about six months at Altus learning how to be a C-17 Loadmaster. A loadmaster performs the calculations and plans cargo and passenger placement to keep the aircraft within center of gravity limits for flight. The loadmaster may physically load the aircraft but primarily supervises loading crews and procedures. Once positioned aboard the aircraft, the loadmaster ensures the cargo is secured against movement.


Smith’s first duty station was McChord AFB, WA. Although it was his third choice, he is so glad he got it. He arrived on June 16, 2005, and met his future wife almost three weeks later, on the 4th of July.


Zachary was assigned to the 10th Airlift Squadron. The primary mission was delivering cargo and troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He got to see a lot of the world by way of the C-17. A typical trip was two weeks long. They would fly to the east coast for a night and then head over to Europe. From there, they would stay a night or two and fly to Iraq or Afghanistan and stay anywhere from Turkey and Qatar to Germany and Kyrgyzstan, and in many other countries.


According to Smith, “we would only know where we were going about 12 hours in advance. Upon arrival, we would explore the local area and get something to eat. One night you could be in a nice hotel, the next night you might be sleeping in a tent in the desert.”


The C-17 is a large cargo plane; it could fit up to ten humvees at one time. Zachary has also carried tanks, helicopters, bombs, bullets, and food. You name it, he has probably carried it. The strangest piece of cargo he ever carried was the head of a cat. The cat was from Iraq; it bit a bomb-sniffing dog so it had to be taken to the lab for testing. We transported the courier and his small box with a cat head inside.


Some of Zachary’s most memorable flights were the humanitarian missions. He took supplies to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, medical equipment to Tbilisi, Georgia in support of Operation Provide Hope, plus food and water to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.


Smith also got to take Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Iraq in December of 2007. His headset has a Pittsburgh Steelers sticker on it and Rice is a Cleveland Browns fan, so the two joked about who was better. I had a good time flying around the world on the C-17, but after three deployments, many trips overseas, and logging over 2,000 flight hours, it was time to settle down.


Zachary separated from active duty on August 23, 2010, and enlisted in the Washington Air National Guard on August 24, 2010. His next technical school was at Keesler AFB, MS where he entered the career field of Command and Control Battle Management Operations. He works full-time at the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) at McChord Air Force Base, WA, as a Surveillance Technician.


WADS is the larger of two Sectors (Eastern Air Defense Sector) responsible for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for peacetime air sovereignty, strategic air defense, and airborne counter-drug operations in the continental United States. The Sector’s primary mission is guarding America’s skies. This 24/7 guardian role involves the use of radar and communications systems to monitor air traffic from the Mississippi River west to the Pacific Ocean and from the Canadian border south to the Mexican border. In addition to NORAD, Zachary is also in War Management.


First Lieutenant Smith currently lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife Sarah and their two children, Benjamin and Lillian. Zachary looks forward to finishing his career in the Western Air Defense Sector. His best advice would be to get out and travel, live within your means, and no matter how hectic your day is, live it to the fullest.

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