RAGBRAI XLIII Countdown – July 19-25, 2015
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RAGBRAI’s Air Guard Water Team Leader Featured



I happened to come across this story about Master Sgt. Marty Smith in this morning’s Des Moines Register.  In addition to putting out fires in Iraq, Marty heads up the team from the Air National Guard who supplies RAGBRAI riders with water along the route each day. 

Get back safe Marty and we’ll see you in July!

SpongeBob helps fireman far from home

by Peggy Nitchals – The Des Moines Register

Master Sgt. Marty Smith didn’t sleep very well last week while on tour in Iraq.

It wasn’t the late night alarms or calls.

The Ankeny resident was missing SpongeBob.

Smith has been deployed to Iraq for about four months, but expects to be home by the end of January.

“My wife had sent over my SpongeBob SquarePants sheets and comforter, which I have on my bed at the fire station at the airport (in Des Moines),” he said during a phone interview from Iraq. “Unfortunately, SpongeBob has been boxed up and is on his way back to Ankeny.

“Last night was not a good night’s sleep. I missed him dearly,” he said.

Smith said having a little taste of home makes being away a little easier.

Smith, 42, is part of the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron with the Air National Guard.

In Iowa, he’s assistant fire chief with the 132nd Fighter Wing at Des Moines International Airport.

In Iraq, he’s assistant fire chief at Camp Sather, an air base at Baghdad International Airport.

Although he’s thousands of miles from Iowa, the similarities between the two jobs are numerous.

“I work a 24-hour shift, just like firefighters back home do,” he said. “The truth is there isn’t much different. I work at the airport in Des Moines as an assistant chief. Here, I just wear a different uniform.

“Here in Baghdad, I wear a weapon and I wear a military uniform, but there are a few extra hazards, unexploded ordinance, or whatever they may be doing some digging and find something in the ground, but other than that, it’s the same.”

Smith has been in the Air National Guard for almost 20 years and this is his third tour abroad.

He spends his days training firefighters, checking in on different stations around the city and working fires.

“I’m the one who runs the shift and when there are calls, I manage the incident and direct the crews what to do,” he said.

Like at home, there is no such thing as a normal day.

“It just depends on the day,” he said. “We’re on a military base. We could have no calls or have five calls today. We have the same stuff as back home.”

In addition to structure fires, Smith and his men are also responsible for aircraft emergencies.

“We’re on an airfield, so we have aircraft emergencies that we have to worry about,” he said. “If they declare a problem with aircraft, we standby in case something happens to the aircraft. We also run emergency medical calls and are hazmat responders.

“If they don’t know who to call, they call the fire department,” he said.

Smith said he joined the National Guard to see if he’d like firefighting.

“I guess I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “Growing up, that’d be the thing to do. So I actually joined the National Guard as a firefighter to see if I liked it, and now I’ve made a career out of it. I didn’t know that I’d stay in for almost 20 years, but it worked out.”

He also comes from a family with a history of military service.

His grandfather, born in 1892, served with the 168th Infantry during World War I in France and the Iowa Guard in the Des Moines area during World War II. His father served in the Marine Corps in the late 1950s.

Assistant Fire Chief Phillip McKinley at the Des Moines airport said Smith is a talented firefighter.

“I know him pretty well,” he said. “He’s very motivated and takes training extremely seriously.”

McKinley said Smith has every Department of Defense firefighting certificate that you can get.

“That right there in itself is impressive,” he said.

Smith said he’s appreciated the support he’s received while on this tour to Iraq.

“It’s helped me make it through my deployment,” Smith said of all the cards, letters and packages.

“My mother is a baker, so I’ve shared many chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with lots of firefighters,” Smith said. “Mom knows that’s my favorite.”

The holidays were a little bit brighter this year thanks to another package from home.

“My parents love Christmas. So they sent me a Christmas tree,” he said. “My wife sent my Christmas stocking from home.”

Despite some of the comforts of home, Smith is still far away.

He speaks with his family twice a week on the Internet-based video-phone service Skype for 15 minutes at a time.

He sends this message to his wife and two kids: “I’ll see you soon and I can’t wait to get home.”

Smith grew up in Ankeny and graduated from Ankeny High School in 1986. He served on the Ankeny Fire Department from 1991-2004.

When he returns to town at the end of the month, you can expect to find him drinking a cold beer at Old Chicago in Ankeny.

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