KINGWOOD, W.Va. — The sprawling National Guard facility at Camp Dawson, the Memorial Tunnel training facility in Kanawha County, and a parachute maintenance facility must stay equipped and in working order. The job of maintaining those three properties is the responsibility of Chief Kristie Smith of the West Virginia Army National Guard.
Smith recently achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 5, the highest rank one can attain as a Chief Warrant Officer.
“I was happy when I made CW 4 and never thought I’d go any higher. So, this meant the world to me. My heart was filled,” Smith said in a recent conversation with MetroNews.
Smith is the first woman to achieve the highest ranking of a CWO in the West Virginia National Guard. But, she’s used to overcoming such obstacles. Smith joined the National Guard in 1987 after a bad breakup with a longtime boyfriend. The anguish led her down a road of destruction and included drinking and driving.
“I unfortunately had an accident that involved my sister. That woke me up because it involved somebody else. I decided I needed to make a change,” she said.
Smith had a brother in the regular Army and another brother in the National Guard. She signed up with the National Guard in hopes it would set her on a more narrow and focused path. She now admits it was her best decision ever. However, she also admitted she never dreamed she’d still be at it 34 years later.
“I was hoping I’d just make it to 15 years, but I wasn’t sure I would,” she said.
During her early days in the Guard, advancement for Smith wasn’t easy. There still weren’t very many women in the military and those who were had to climb a high wall for accomplishment.
“I applied for a few of the active guard/reserve positions to try and get full time. I kept getting letters saying at this time this unit does not allow female members. It was discouraging and disheartening,” she admitted.
However, she kept applying and hung in there. Eventually she was commissioned as a chief warrant officer in 2002 after serving in the 152nd Military Police Detachment in her hometown of Moundsville. She branched into the Quartermaster unit where she specialized in property management for the Guard.
“I take care of all of the property books here at Camp Dawson, at the Tunnel, and at our parachute facility. I maintain the post,” she said.
“I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving than Chief Smith.” Brig. Gen. William Crane said. “Throughout her career, she has excelled as a Soldier and has lived out the Army and West Virginia values that we hold dear. She will forever be known as the first female CW5 in West Virginia National Guard history; what an amazing honor. I know she will continue to lead with honor, integrity and distinction in her new rank.”
Smith was deployed during Desert Storm and was part of the 2006 operations in Iraq.