Army Specialist Andrew “AJ” Smith, of Evans City, Pennsylvania, beloved son of Jim and Deb Smith.
From his mother, Deb:
Andrew, (AJ) to everyone, hit the ground running from birth. Always on the go, he never walked, he ran. He would always be the first to try anything. He had big blue eyes and a smile, and could talk his way out of anything!!! When he was four years old, he told everyone he was going to be a Fireman.
At the at age 15, AJ stopped smiling. He lost two friends in one night to a hit and run driver. Then a couple of months later another friend died by suicide. Our happy boy was gone, but we thought he was grieving and would just get over it. At that time, we had never heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When AJ was 18, he decided to join the United States Army. He served as an Infantryman in the 112th Regiment, 56 Stryker, 28th Division. AJ deployed to Iraq in support of the Global War on Terror. He attained the rank of specialist.
We thought that was great and would change him. Little did we know that after being deployed to Iraq it would change him, but not for the better. That’s when we found out what PTSD really was.
When he came home he really struggled with it, but at the same time he never gave up his dream to be a Fireman. He worked hard and in 2013 became a full-time firefighter for Columbia, South Carolina. He was on top of the world and so happy for the first time in a long time.
That all ended in March of 2015, when after getting hurt on the job, he was told he would probably never be able to fight fires again. At the young age of 27, his dream career was over. His PTSD came back with a vengeance, and for the next year he became someone we didn’t know.
On January 15, 2016, he hit rock bottom and he finally said he couldn’t do this anymore. He went to the VA in Greenville, S.C., in crisis, begging for help, but they turned him away. He was told the first available appointment he could get would be in March. He couldn’t wait.
SPC Andrew “AJ” Smith lost his battle with PTSD, February 21, 2016. He was 28 years old.
Our hearts are broken, We will Love him & Miss him forever.
Those left to cherish his memory, his parents, Jim and Deb Smith; his sister, Heather and her husband, Jon; and his three nieces he adored, Lexi, Emma and Taylor.
Rest peacefully, AJ….Please look down & protect your fellow infantryman and firefighters..especially those still suffering as you did..
Jim, Deb, Heather and family,
Nothing I can say will make the pain less or the empty whole left by AJ any fuller. But I do thank you that in your pain you are all bringing this awareness to so many of us that have never heard these stories before. I am sure of two things, your voice in this will save lives and your son and brother is very proud of what you are doing in his name. Love to all.
Just to let you know a card with your sons photo from mission-22 is in Sussex , New Brunswick CANADA. It was passed along at a baseball game held in honour of my boyfriends brother who has terminal cancer. He also was a firefight as was his twin brother. The random act of kindness card with your boys photo on is on my kitchen table and will soon be on its way to another good deed. He was certainly a handsome young man. Sorry for your loss. Know his memory is still alive in the acts of kindness in his name.
PTSD is a horrible thing. My heart goes out to his family.