Local News

Saturday, Aug 31 2013 08:06 PM

Airman remembered as fun-loving, hard-working

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    U.S. Air Force pallbearers carry the body of Technical Sgt. Mark "Smitty "Smith into Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for a memorial service while an honor guard salutes and the Patriot Guard Riders hold U.S. flags.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Led by a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a hearse carries the body of Air Force Technical Sgt. Mark "Smitty "Smith to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for a memorial service.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Jessica Smith and her daughters, Victoria, left, and Gabriella, center, wait in the entrance of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for the services of her husband, Air Force Tech Sgt. Mark Smith, to begin.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Johnson says a few words to Jessica Smith after speaking at a memorial service for her husband, Tech Sgt. Mark Smith.

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    By Photo courtesy of Jesse Aranda

    Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Smith in a U.S. Air Force rescue helicopter.

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    By Photo courtesy of Jesse Aranda

    Tech Sgt. Mark A. Smith dances with his daughter Victoria at a father-daughter dance.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Smith had flying in his blood. Born into a family of men who loved planes, Smith knew as a child that's where his future lay. By the age of 14 he was landing a biplane, and after graduating high school in 2000 he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

Greg Smith said his brother had a passion for anything aviation-related, but the greatest love in his life was his family.

"He was all about his family," Greg Smith said.

He and other friends and family of Mark Smith's gathered Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church for a memorial service in honor of the 30-year-old airman. Mark Smith died Aug. 5 when the HH 60G Pave Hawk helicopter he was traveling in crashed while on a training mission in Okinawa.

The first memorial service for Smith was held Monday at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, home to the U.S. Air Force's largest combat wing. Smith will be buried Sept. 5 at Arlington National Cemetery.

He leaves behind his wife, Jessica, and two daughters, Victoria, 12, and Gabrielle, 6.

Jesse Aranda, uncle of Jessica, said he's been amazed at the outpouring of support since Mark Smith's death. He said the loss has been difficult, but the support of family and friends is seeing them through.

Aranda described Smith as a quiet, happy, hardworking man. He'd sometimes have to tell Smith to relax and just have fun when he was visiting Aranda's house because Smith was always pitching in on different projects.

"He was a man who never said 'I can't,'" Aranda said.

In addition to flying, Smith enjoyed scuba diving, which he took up while on Okinawa. He was also skilled at woodworking, which Aranda said is why Jessica Smith chose a wooden casket for him.

Greg Smith also said his "happy, easygoing" brother had a talent for woodworking.

"A self-proclaimed carpenter," Greg Smith said with a laugh.

Smith married Jessica soon after he joined the Air Force and while in Iowa. They moved to Beale Air Force Base in northern California, then to Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., where he trained with a helicopter rescue squadron.

The family moved to Okinawa in 2011, where Smith looked forward to spending time with his loved ones following deployments in Afghanistan as a flight engineer with the 33rd Rescue Squadron. He'd been scheduled to return for a third tour at the end of August.

Smith saw combat. During an Afghanistan mission in 2012 he was involved in a rescue in which, while under fire from rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, he remained in the open hatch of a helicopter and operated the hoist that lowered two airmen to recover a wounded commando.

He received the Air Force Commendation Medal for his heroism.

Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Johnson said during Saturday's memorial service that he'd learned "Smitty" was quiet outside a helicopter, but when in one had no problem letting anyone, regardless of rank, know if they were doing something wrong -- or right, for that matter. His opinion meant a lot to the others in the squadron.

Johnson said he's attended a lot of memorial services, but the one for Smith at Kadena stands out.

"It's a huge loss to the squadron," Johnson said. "The guys loved Mark."

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