Baylor Law Grad Brian Smith Killed By Sniper In Iraq

July 12, 2004
News Photo 2114Baylor law grad 2nd Lt. Brian Smith, who was killed in Iraq.

by Alan Hunt

Faculty and staff at Baylor Law School remembered with fondness the quiet, polite student who received his law degree during commencement exercises on Feb. 5, 2000. The graduate, Brian Smith, was "always polite and professional in my dealings with him," said Law School Registrar Jerri Cunningham. "He was a good student." Faculty members endorsed her comments, recalling the dedicated student in their classes.

Smith's career in the legal profession seemed to mirror his attitude and determination as a law student. After law school, he started his own practice in his home town of McKinney and then moved to Austin to work as a successful labor and employment law attorney. But a year later, Smith surprised everyone by his decision to join the Army. His mother, Linda Smith, said her son was fascinated with mechanized armor.

Last week, at the age of 30, the promising lawyer-turned-soldier paid the ultimate sacrifice when he was shot by a sniper while commanding a tank in Iraq. Smith, who was married, was serving as a 2nd Lt. and a platoon leader with Company A, First Battalion, 34th Armor. He was commissioned in the Army in June 2003 and had been stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas before deployment to Iraq in January. Smith was the 38th soldier from Fort Riley to die in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The Baylor law grad and former Eagle Scout died July 2 while checking the tread on his tank at a routine stop during a patrol in Habbaniyah, a town about 50 miles west of Baghdad. An officer who served with him in Iraq said Smith could have told a private to check the tracks for him when he was shot, but he insisted on doing it himself. He said it was typical of Smith, who preferred to lead by example. According to reports, Smith had raised his arm as if to check the suspension on the tank when the sniper shot him under the arm, where his bulletproof vest would not have protected him.

Smith used to email a group of his friends weekly to let them know what was going on. In his last email before he died, he described how bomb-making materials were discovered in an Iraqi house during a patrol, following a mirror flashing incident from the second story window of the house. Smith recalled how he was pouring with sweat in "brutal" heat when he saw the flashes directed at his tank from the window. He said he was convinced the flashes were designed to help the resistance against the U.S. troops.

"We waited," he wrote. "Maybe whoever it was would notice that the tank's cannon was no longer looking down the road but was now pointing directly at him. Maybe he would realize that this is not a game. Maybe, just maybe, he would realize that we were hot and tired and terribly, so terribly frustrated with this place and these people that we would respond to even the slightest provocation with enthusiastic and brutal violence.

Or maybe not.

About five minutes later it came again. Flash.

Flash."

The tank crew fired at the house after that, and Smith wrote that soldiers who went into the house found a buried cache of bomb-making equipment. They took the owner of the house into custody.

Six days after he sent the email, Smith was dead.

Expressing his sorrow on behalf of the Baylor Law School family, Law Dean Brad Toben said, "We were so saddened to learn of Brian's death in combat. His courage, heroism and sacrifice are so inspiring to all, but the cost of this tragic loss of his life and the loss suffered by his wife, parents, family and friends is without measure."

Survivors include Smith's wife, Kathleen Mary Carroll-Smith of Austin; his mother, Linda Smith, and father, William M. Smith, both of McKinney; and his sister, Erin M. Smith of Austin. A funeral was held July 10 in McKinney, followed by burial there. A memorial service was held in Austin on July 11.

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