After completing his eight years of active duty with the U.S. Army, Brent Smith could have decided to leave the military and pursue a career as a civilian.
Instead, he wrapped up an evening Master of Business Administration program and signed a contract to join the U.S. Army Reserve.
He started in the reserve as a major, and in June, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In August, a ceremony was conducted to make that official.
Looking back on his decision to join the military, Smith, 38, said he assumed he would have gotten out after five years. Now, he has been in for 15 years.
“I never really honestly knew that I was going to West Point, so everything has worked out in my favor luckily, and I’ve had positive interactions throughout,” he said.
Smith graduated from Seymour High School in 2002 and then went to Marion Military Institute, a preparatory school in Alabama. Of the 300 students in his class, 18 applied to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, and all of them got in and became “plebes,” or first-year students.
Along with training to become an officer at West Point, Smith studied geography while obtaining his core curriculum, and he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 2007.
West Point also has a requirement for cadets to be part of some type of club or sport. Smith was a four-year wrestler at SHS, placing eighth at state his senior year, so he continued that sport at the academy. He received a varsity letter two years and earned the most improved wrestler award.
Following his time at West Point, Smith was posted in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He became a platoon leader for an engineering unit and wound up being deployed twice to Afghanistan as an operations officer.
The first time was 2008 to 2009, and he was involved with a base defense operation that managed the security for a base, overseeing guard towers, entry points and access on and off the base.
For the second deployment from 2010 to early 2011, he worked at a police and military headquarters for the Afghan Army and Afghan police. His unit coordinated police operations and conducted training for the police and Army.
“An engineer officer helps facilitate a lot of the base defense. That was my first deployment,” he said. “Then once I got promoted up to captain, I was again in operations, but they needed individuals to help guide the Afghan colonels how to manage the people, the communications, the planning process, kind of teach them how to plan. That drove me into those positions.”
When he was at Fort Campbell, it was all about preparing soldiers for deployments.
“There are people who are coming and going from the unit on a regular basis, but much like anything that you do in the military, you do the whole crawl, walk, run processes,” Smith said. “You start and you’re out and you’re working on individual tasks, and then as time builds, you’re filling up your rosters with everybody that’s going to go.”
Before he was deployed, he went to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“You conduct collective-level large-scale operations,” he said. “You’re evaluated on your capabilities, and if you pass the minimum standard in order to even go, you do have that path to walk through and validation to see if your unit is even capable of going overseas.”
In 2012, Smith moved back to his home state and started the evening MBA program at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“That was a little plan of I wanted to get out, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so doing the MBA directed me in a career path that I wanted to go in the civilian world,” he said.
Smith moved several times while back in school before choosing to stay in the U.S. Army Reserve and settle in Indianapolis.
“Being that Camp Atterbury was so close and they do have a large amount of reserve elements there, it just made sense to keep my career going,” he said. “I saw the potential to be promoted and just to continue to serve.”
At first, Smith was promoted to major and served as an observer coach/trainer, validating National Guard and reserve units before they deployed.
“Some of them could have been activating for a year, some of them were just doing their regular training, but I helped coach and train those reserve and guard elements,” he said.
His full-time job was serving as a project manager in clinical trials for a software company.
In 2020, he left that job because he was requested by the Army to go down to Fort Hood, Texas, for a year to help bring elements back from Afghanistan.
Back in Indiana in September 2021, he became an executive officer for the contingency command post with the 416th Theater Engineer Command at Parkhurst U.S. Army Reserve Center in Darien, Illinois. He goes there for training one weekend a month and two weeks a year. That unit has 10,500 soldiers across a 26-state footprint.
Smith was honored to be promoted to lieutenant colonel in June and go through the ceremony in August.
“It’s fulfilling because I spent a lot of time in Texas, a year deployed basically, and the next step, my next job in the reserve will be as a battalion commander, which I think is obviously very stressful, but it’s the culmination for a lot of people’s careers in the military,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having that opportunity and just keep on moving to the next level.”
At 20 years in the military, Smith could retire, but he wouldn’t get all of his full benefits until he’s nearly 60. For now, he said he’s going to play it by ear.
“I got married over the last year when I was down in Texas, and my wife had a baby, so I’m trying to figure out how much time I actually have available to do stuff like this,” he said.
For his full-time job, he is a senior project manager for Charles Schwab.
“They bought TD Ameritrade last year. They are just trying to realign the organization, so I’m supporting the realignment of Ameritrade and Charles Schwab after the acquisition,” Smith said.
Reflecting on his decision to join the military and seeing how far he has come, Smith said time has flown.
“I remember being in Seymour High School in English class and the towers getting hit,” he said, referring to airplanes hitting the World Trade Center in New York City during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was actively applying to West Point at that time, and then all of the stuff culminating after that leading up to eight years after that being in Afghanistan and then now being at the battalion commander, lieutenant colonel level, it has been an exciting career,” he said. “I’ve gotten to see the world, I’ve served with some really great soldiers and it has just been exciting and fun, and I’m really interested in seeing where the next few years take me.”
Smith’s younger brother, Patrick Smith, also served in the Army after graduating from West Point. He got out in 2021 and now lives near Brent in Indianapolis and works for a tech company based in Chicago.
Brent said he hopes others are inspired by their success, and he offered some advice.
“Follow your interests,” he said. “There’s no defined path toward success or happiness. You have to create that yourself. Focus on what you find interesting and exciting and makes you happy.”
Name: Brent Smith
Education: Seymour High School (2002); U.S. Military Academy (Bachelor of Science in geography, 2007); Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (Master of Business Administration, 2015)
Military: Eight years of active duty with the U.S. Army; now in seventh year with the U.S. Army Reserve
Occupation: Senior project manager for Charles Schwab and executive officer for the Army Reserve
Family: Wife, Cicely; daughter, Avery; parents, Rick and Sue Smith