Fairchild secretary retires after 58 years

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Samantha Krolikowski
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Born on May 26, 1937, in Eureka, Montana, Jerald “Smitty” Smith, the oldest of four, grew up in a family of loggers. Not wanting to be a logger himself, Smitty, joined the U.S. Navy on Jan. 2, 1956 and started his six weeks of basic training.

“My mom’s brother was in the Navy on submarines and whenever he’d come see me, he would be in uniform,” said Smitty. “I thought that was so neat and that’s what made me want to join the Navy.”

On his father’s side, one of his uncle’s accidentally had his fingers cut off in a wood chopping accident by his dad when they were both kids and his father was deferred because he had a government job.

“My other uncle got as far as Ft. Lewis, Washington but when he had to crawl under barbed wire, he stuck his rear end up too high and got hit by a live machine gun bullet so he wasn’t able to continue his service,” Smitty laughed.

On his first enlistment, Smitty received orders to serve on the heavy cruiser, USS Los Angeles CA-135, as a teletype operator.

“Teletype is a big electric type writer we used to send messages from one ship to another,” he said. “Shortly after, I went into radio doing the same thing.”

In 1956, during his time on the USS Los Angeles, the ship escorted supplies into the Formosa Island of Matsu and Quemoy, earning him the China Service Medal, the last year it was awarded. The same year, he deployed to Vietnam for the first time.

“Before I went to Vietnam, I had to go through a rigorous swimming course,” he said. “All my instructors were underwater demolition teams. We had to swim for eight hours a day and at the end of the course we had to swim for two hours completing all of the strokes we were taught.”

While in Vietnam, he was on Swiftboats PCF 56 and 22, which are patrol boats. On his second tour he was with the Coastal Surveillance Center Nha Trang during the Tet Offensive. During his tours, he met Bob Hope, Jayne Mansfield, Audie Murphy and Keenan Wynn.

Before being discharged, Smitty served on the USS Zelima AF 49, a storage ship; tasked to carry refrigerated items and equipment to other ships.

“I had to do a lot of painting while on Zelima,” he said. “If the ship wasn’t painted in a while it would get rusty so we had to scrape off the rust and then paint it back to grey. One time I had to hang over on the anchor and paint it … well, they forgot about me and I fell asleep there.”

After four years in the Navy, Smitty was discharged on Jan. 1, 1960, but after re-entering on Nov. 1, 1960, he served with the Adimiral Staff Carrier Division Four on aircraft carriers.

While on the USS Kennedy, Smitty served on the commissioning team placing the ship on active service and leading him to meet the Kennedy family. According to Smitty, the members who commission a ship have to attend school and learn new equipment of the ship because each vessel is different.

Smitty reflected some of his favorite memories while in the Navy were visiting foreign ports. He had the opportunity to be stationed in 36 different countries and visited many others; some of his favorites included: Norway, Sweden, Australia and Brazil.

“I loved visiting Recife [Brazil] because of the miles of curved beaches,” he said. “It was beautiful.”

At 37 years old, Smitty retired from the Navy on March 4, 1976, as a Petty Officer 2nd Class.

“If I had to do it again, I would,” he said. “First four years, you can’t wait to get out, but then you change your mind and decide to stay in, your whole attitude changes. You’re with the military now instead of against it.”

He moved back to Spokane, stating the job opportunities are better. He started out as a deputy sheriff, which would have transferred him to Los Angeles, but decided to stay and begin his civilian federal service career in June 1980 as a janitor at the base commissary.

“After the commissary failed a General Inspection, I updated the publications and we passed another inspection,” he said. “The manager came in the next day and said, “You’re my secretary.”’

In 1982, he became the 92nd Supply Squadron’s secretary. In May 1989, he was promoted to a GS-5 position as the 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron secretary and worked there for 24 years. Throughout his time at Fairchild, he has been here for many significant events.

“I was here when the B-52 Stratofortress went down and when the shooting happened at the base clinic,” Smitty said.

He also saw Fairchild transition from the Strategic Air Command to Air Combat Command and then officially to Air Mobility Command. According to Smitty, the B-52s at Fairchild transferred to another ACC base and then KC-135 Stratotankers started coming in.

“Although we changed aircraft, our mission stayed the same,” Smitty said. “Our main mission is getting the planes in the air.”

He now has been the 92nd Contracting Squadron’s secretary for four years. He assists with training new members in the squadron, provides on-the-job training and reviews EPRs.

“We have a lot of vendors who come in so I direct them where to go,” Smitty said. “One thing to know about EPRs, if you put down what you did and the results, especially if any money or time saved is involved, that will help when writing.”

Some may wonder why someone would stay working for the government for so long, but Smitty has enjoyed his experience. Not only has he earned the 10, 20, 30, and 40 year pins for his government service, he is the only member on Fairchild who has earned the 50 year pin.

“The people I worked with have been so great, that I didn’t want to leave,” Smitty said. “I still have the hesitation to leave and I knew it was coming and tried to put it off as long as possible. I’m 80 years old now and am going to stay in Spokane and do some volunteer work to stay busy. I don’t plan on sitting in a rocking chair, I’m too active and like to get out.”

Smitty will retire on January 3 after 58 years of government service. He has three children, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He’s been married to Patty for 30 years.