SILVER SPRING – After six months of monitoring the Afghanistan army, Maryland Sen. Will Smith (D-20) recently returned home and is striving to catch up on legislative work in Annapolis.
Smith was first elected at the end of 2016. He replaced Jamie Raskin, who then became a U.S. congressman. As a member of the Navy Reserve, Smith had been called up in March to work as an intelligence officer. He has been overseas for training, but his recent deployment was his first experience on active duty.
When Smith left, his only child Jacqueline was less than a year old.
“I missed her first birthday,” Smith said of his now 18-month old daughter. One of the first things he did upon returning home was have father-daughter time to reconnect.
“It’s been really great. She’s been saying dada and wants me to pick her up,” Smith said, calling their reunification “seamless.”
Smith spent most of his deployment at the Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul. The Resolute Support Mission is a NATO-led operation, which began in January of 2015.
While there, Smith was part of a combined joint intelligence operation. He worked as the branch chief for governance responsible for monitoring, accessing and reporting.
He lived in dorm-style barracks and rarely ventured away. Too many car bombings in the area kept Smith and the men and women he worked with on base, he said, adding he never ate in any Afghanistan restaurants.
Serving overseas for the first time “was illuminating, just to gain a greater understanding” of what was happening.
It’s much different than what he had read about in the news, he said.
Things move more quickly than he had believed “while stateside,” Smith said. He described the activities in Afghanistan as having “a kinetic tempo.”
“Every single night, coalition forces are going out there, risking their lives every night.”
While serving, several events in America created an air of uncertainty for both the Afghanis and members of their army, Smith said.
Those events included President Donald Trump’s decision to remove troops from Northern Syria where the Kurdish people reside as well as two tweets sent out by the Commander-in-Chief, Smith said.
One tweet from Trump said he was going to withdraw from Afghanistan. The second one said he could end the war by bombing the country, Smith recalled.
“You had a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “Folks were nervous.”
Smith noticed a decrease in morale among the troops as they were “wondering what would happen if we were to leave.” Some of the elites started to “vote with their feet and got out of the country,” Smith recalled.
These are people, Smith said, many of whom “have known nothing but war, and they lived under the Taliban rule for ten years.”
But with American help, that country has experienced three elections in which there was a true handover of power, he said. Now, members of parliament are one-third female, he noted.
There have been so many advances, he said. For example, according to Smith, the Afghanis have “a high level of respect” for Americans.
The military brass he met with “just couldn’t express (enough) how much they appreciated what America does,” Smith recalled.
Smith praised a few Afghan army divisions that he called very sophisticated and can do “some really impressive stuff.”
He expressed concern about the number of civilian and friendly fire casualties that are taking place, noting, “This has got to change. This is something that’s got to be addressed. It’s really tragic.”
In early October, near the end of Smith’s time in Afghanistan, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen visited him.
“Back in March, my good friend State Sen. Will Smith left the Maryland State Senate to head to Afghanistan to work as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve. Recently, I had an opportunity to catch up with him while I was in the country on a Senate delegation trip. I’m thankful to Will and all those in uniform who bravely heed the call to serve,” Van Hollen wrote in an email to the Sentinel.
As he served in in Afghanistan, Smith’s chief of staff sent daily emails and kept him informed of events in Annapolis. However, the state senator admitted, it was hard to keep up.
“You are working so much,” Smith said. “Your hours are so long.”
Smith will be making his first public appearance on Dec at the Silver Spring Civic Center.