Iraq War veteran loses leg, now patrols Georgia

By WAYNE CRENSHAW | The Macon Telegraph (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 30, 2015

PERRY (Tribune News Service) — When Mark Smith applied to work for the Georgia State Patrol, he wasn't sure if anyone would want to hire a trooper with one leg.

Smith was a Marine serving in Iraq in 2006 when he stepped on a mine that badly mangled his leg. It eventually had to be amputated.

The State Patrol agreed to give him a shot at going through trooper school, which Smith said is similar to Marine basic training, although less intense.

"They said 'That's awesome that you are trying out, but don't expect any special treatment,' " Smith recalled. "I said, 'I absolutely don't expect that. In fact, I would be offended if I did receive special treatment.' I had to do everything just like everybody else."

In August he became the first amputee to graduate from Georgia's school for state troopers. Smith said there may have been troopers who were hurt on the job and returned as amputees, but at his graduation he said Gov. Nathan Deal announced Smith as the first amputee to graduate from the school.

Smith, who is from Macon and now lives in Warner Robins, works for the State Patrol post in Perry, which serves a four-county area.

As he walked toward his patrol car to go on duty Thursday, no one could have detected he had a prosthetic leg. His gait is normal, and Smith said he is confident he can run down a suspect if he has to.

In fact, he already has.

When he was in field training — riding with an experienced trooper before going out on his own — he had a suspect run from him.

He and the other trooper ran him down and tackled him together. After the suspect was in custody, Smith said another trooper asked the suspect, "Do you realize you just got outrun by a man with one leg?"

Smith was an avid runner before he was injured, and he still is today. With the use of a prosthetic especially made for running, he ran a 10K (6.2-mile) race a year to the day of his injury.

That was not at all what Smith thought his future would hold when his doctor first told him that amputating his leg might be the best option. Smith said it was the hardest decision he ever had to make.

"When the doctors told me I had to make the decision to amputate my leg, I envisioned myself scooting around on my butt for the rest of my life," he said. "I was crushed."

Prosthetics, he said, have advanced "light years" since the Vietnam War. He said his prosthetic is fairly comfortable. The one he wears on duty was especially made for that purpose, including a modification that allows him to carry a small backup pistol in a holster around the ankle.

Smith would go on to serve another six years in the Marines following the injury. He wanted to return to the infantry, but he wasn't allowed. Instead he was made a small arms technician, essentially a gunsmith. So he knows his way around a weapon, and he got the shooting proficiency award in trooper school.

His supervisor, State Patrol Sgt. Craig Smith, said the rookie has been a model trooper, and his handicap has not held him back at all.

"Bottom line is that he has good moral character," said Craig Smith, who is not related to Mark Smith. "He has proven himself above and beyond since day one."

Anyone who wants to meet Mark Smith without getting pulled over can do so at the Houston County Commission meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the main courthouse in Perry. The board invites veterans to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at commission meetings and talk about their military service.

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