Building Character

By Pat Smith

How many of you have reached the age you can say, to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, that you have celebrated the 21st anniversary of your 39th birthday? Well, I now can. Born in April of 1962, I spent all my formative years growing up in Southwest Virginia with two parents that are still alive, and together. My mother is 80 and still teaching school, and my father is 86 and just as cantankerous as he was when I left the comforts of home in the early 80s.

Pat Smith, building character

Reflecting on my time growing up, I have to say that it was memorable. Some of you can remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968; the moon landing in July of 1969; the daily recounts of the Viet Nam war on the television when most of us had it in black and white unless you were affluent enough to have a color TV; and how about turning the antenna to get the best reception from your “aerial”. The ’60s turned into the ’70s, with the troops coming home from “Nam” and the protests slowly fading away from the war that had ceased in 1973. Remember long gas lines? You could only fill up on odd-or-even days based on your license plate numbers. Then came the late Star Wars in 1977, and the Bee Gees making more money than the GNP of some nations. There was talk from some folks that America wasn’t the same as it once was, that we may now have to live less than what our parents had. Then came my graduation in 1980 – What to do, what to do?


At the worldly age of 18, I entered college and spent the next three years in college. Then one day a friend of mine, from my hometown, asked me to go trout fishing with him. It was a cold April day in the spring of 1983 and he also was in his 3rd year of college too. Both of us were basically bored with our academic studies and were let down by the whole experience. My friend suddenly asked, between casts of our ultra-lites, “Whadda ya think about joining the Air Force?” I replied, “Hell, I don’t know. But it’s probably better than this third year of college!” So, we both continued the conversation for the rest of the afternoon. On the way home, we tried to figure out which one of us to lay the blame on when we talked to our parents about our new Life plan.


At dinner that night with my parents, I had the subsequent talk about how my friend and I made plans to stop our studies and join the Air Force. I was absolutely shocked by my mom and dad’s response. All that was said was, “If that is what you want to do, go for it!” Wait, what? I called my friend on the home rotary phone and told him of my conversation with mom and dad. He told me that he was not as cordial, but after much back and forth they had agreed that it was his decision. So, we were going to do it.


For those of you that have entered as an enlistee in the military, you know the drill. You meet with a recruiter, fill out more forms than Patton ever did, take a series of tests to find your AFSC (MOS for the boot guys), physicals at a MEPS center, and then once accepted, swear an oath, then you have a go date. Mine was August 24, 1983. My friend was about two weeks earlier, so maybe I could gain some intel from him if I can find and contact him? Oh, and Sir Patrick, you will be assigned to SAC to a Heavy Bombardment wing once you complete your basic and technical training. Okay, this sounds fun. SAC?


Arriving at Lackland, AFB on the night of the 24th at 2:30 AM, tired and not yet had a bite to eat, a bunch of 18–21-year-old “hippies” were placed in marked 4 columns, that equaled 24 spaces (squadron size) to wait for only God knew what. Then came the TI (Technical Instructor), out of a building called an Orderly Room, and proceeded to rudely kick a trash can down the steps. As tired as we were, he wants us to sound off with what we came believe was the 11th commandment – “sir, yes sir.” What is sound off? You find out very, very quickly.


There are those that say that you remember the most significant events and people in your life. One such person, if you have joined the service, is your TI, or DI for the ground pounders. Mine was Sgt. Ray Morin. I quickly found out, to my shock, that I was not the only Smith on this planet, and according to him, “My parents had never been married!” And he somehow found out, through some secret government agency, that I was a college boy, and wanted to make sure I got up precisely two hours after I found out I was a love child. Oh yeah, and I was also the flight leader! This marked the beginning of my transition from a self-centered individual to something much more important.


More to come…


Pat Smith is Lead of Aerospace & Defense & Supplier Quality Management Strategies at HVMC. He is also a member of HVM Resiliency Partners, which focuses on strengthening supply chain resiliency within the U.S. manufacturing sector.

With over 32 years of experience in an OEM automotive environment, Pat’s focus is on achieving results through customer-oriented focus and team-based problem solving. He thrives in high-pressure and fast-paced situations, strives for positive results through the application of his product knowledge and troubleshooting abilities. He possesses expertise in program launch, quality management systems, automotive technology systems, and an aptitude for optimizing performance and motivating teams. 

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