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Retired Army staff sergeant now volunteers to help other veterans

After 23 years in the military, Janet Smith's service didn't end when she retired as an Army staff sergeant in 2004.

She was commander of the American Legion Jesse Clipper Post 430 from 2011 to 2013, and has been president of its Women's Auxiliary Post since then.

She has coordinated Memorial Day ceremonies for the past five years at Jesse Clipper Square at Michigan Avenue and William Street, which has a monument to African American veterans from World War I to Afghanistan, including Clipper, who was from Buffalo and the first African American to die in World War I. Smith helped get the square's memorial grounds expanded and Clipper's first name correctly spelled on the monument.

Smith also does volunteer work with veterans organizations and the Buffalo Veterans Administration to help local veterans and their loved ones – like the family of Common Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt – obtain services, benefits, medals and U.S. flags the veteran earned but didn't know about.

Rep. Brian Higgins' office helps Smith with the application process and sends her the flag, she said.

"I get the flag and have a (Memorial Day) ceremony every year" at Jesse Clipper Square, she said.

For this year's ceremony on May 27, Wyatt's family will receive a flag for his mother and medals that his father, Army Pvt. Norman Calieb Wyatt, never received. It will be a particularly touching moment for Council Member Wyatt. He never met his father, who was doing maneuvers in Alaska when he froze to death, the councilman said.

"I was born in September. He died in November," Wyatt said. "He never even got a chance to see me. My mom was probably 18 when he passed. I just heard so many positive things about him."

When Wyatt told Smith he wanted to get a U.S. flag for his mother, "she went into action and got everything done," Wyatt said.

"Janet worked all that out for me. She did all the legwork. She's always been an advocate for veterans," he added. "I thank her so much."

•••

Janet Smith, 59

Hometown and residence: Buffalo

Branch: Army

Rank: Staff sergeant

Years of service: 1981-2004

War zone: Stateside

Specialty: Radio operator, supply person

Medals: Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal

•••

Smith's volunteerism and military career were celebrated in March during a party in her honor at Salvatore's Italian Gardens hosted by the Women's Auxiliary Post. Higgins, who was unable to attend, sent a certificate and U.S. flag that was flown over the U.S. Capital in recognition of Smith.

"Her distinguished career serving this country is undeniable, but her service to this community is equally extraordinary," Higgins said recently by email. "As leader of the Jesse Clipper Women's Auxiliary, she is in routine contact with our office, coordinating events honoring local veterans or reaching out to connect veterans with the benefits and commendations they deserve. It is evident that patriotism and commitment to helping her fellow veterans lies deep within her heart because we witness it as she lives it each and every day."

One of the highlights of Smith's postmilitary career was when she met President Obama in 2011 at the American Legion national convention in Minneapolis.

"I had my picture taken with him. I shook his hand. I talked with him," said Smith, who served during the Cold War, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and Gulf War eras.

Her military career began in 1981.

Smith completed basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and was sent to Fort Gordon, Ga. for training as a radio operator. Then she worked as a radio operator at Fort Ord, Calif., she said.

Smith left the service in December 1981 to give birth to her daughter in March 1982.

"Back then we couldn't stay in the service while pregnant," said Smith, who also has a 32-year-old son.

After her daughter's birth, Smith was stationed at the Amherst Army Reserve Center on North Forest Road, where she was a supply person before embarking on six-month tours as a supply person, stationed at Army bases in New Jersey's Fort Dix, Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania and Fort Drum in New York, she said.

When her unit became an engineering unit, Smith went back to Fort Leonard Wood to attend drill sergeant academy and became a drill sergeant. She trained troops there for four years, she said.

Smith then taught a basic noncommissioned officers course for about three years at Fort Dix.

But when her unit was shipped out in 1989 during the Gulf War era, Smith did not have a required family care plan in place for her daughter, so she stayed stateside with a support group in Manchester, N.H., and shipped equipment to her unit.

"That was my job ... I stayed back and shipped all of the equipment to them, whatever they needed," she said.

Smith came back to the Army Reserve Center in Amherst and then retired.

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