By Bethany Fitts
Most would agree that there are days when going to the office does not seem appealing, and Lt. Col. Steve “Thirsty” Smith (BE 85) of Shreveport, Louisiana, is no different. However, what sets him apart is that he was rewarded for avoiding the office. In fact, Smith, who pilots the B-52 bomber for the U.S. Air Force, recently hit a 10,000-hour milestone.
“It was never anything I was shooting for,” he laughed. “It just happened because I love flying, and I hate getting in the office.”
Smith, a member of the Arnold Air Society ROTC fraternal organization, had a connection to the Air Force through his father, which sparked his interest in the University of Mississippi’s ROTC program. However, it was the desire to help innocent people that ultimately drove him to pursue this career.
“Getting to fly combat [does not] sound like something a normal person would want to do, but it really is rewarding to know that something you’ve put your heart and soul into for years is paying off to support innocent people on the ground,” he said.
Smith has put his heart and soul into his career, and his love of flying is what led to his achievement of the 10,000-hour milestone.
While the B-52 jet will always be special to him, he is amazed at its development over the last fifty years.
“[The jet] is old, but it still has an incredible capability,” Smith explained. “Every few years something comes along that just increases its capability tremendously. For instance, when I first got into the Air Force, we didn’t [even] have GPS.”
Smith currently works at the B-52 Schoolhouse Formal Training Unit where new students are taught how to fly the B-52. When describing what his job looks like, he explained that he typically works on a two-day rotation.
“The first day would be flying a mission,” Smith said. “We’ll get a task or perhaps a schedule to go to a range or something like that. Then we’ll plan a mission with the rest of the crew pilots, offense team and the defenders. The next day we’ll go fly the mission.”
Smith’s job is never boring. Because of his service as a pilot, he has traveled all over the world, including Guam, England, Spain and Australia.
“You name it,” he laughed. “Wherever B-52’s go, I’ve pretty much been there.”
Smith loves his job because it provides him an opportunity to continuously grow. He learns something new every time he flies, and his job does not come without tremendous obstacles.
“Leaving your family, your wife and kids, it’s tough,” he said.
Aside from being separated from his family, it can also be difficult for Smith to process the loss of life associated with his job.
“When you’re in combat, you do the best you can to avoid any loss of innocent lives, but there are times you just don’t know the effects of your weapons,” he said. “That’s hard for anybody. Ending someone’s life – that’s a hard thing. Even if they are the enemy.”
The difficulties that come with Smith’s job are eased by the strong support system he has in his wife, in particular.
“My wife, she’s backing me the whole time,” he said. “Before I fly, I’ll call her and she’ll pray with me to keep God by my side and, whenever we drop weapons, to keep people safe, especially the innocent lives on the ground.”
Smith said his coworkers also provide encouragement, and he plans to continue working in the Air Force as long as possible.
“The people I fly with, the people I work with…they provide a lot of inspiration for me,” he said. “We’ve all got a job to do and 99 percent of them are really motivated to do the mission.”