Commissioner Smith rounds out a 100-year legacy of family members serving our nation, from South Africa to Afghanistan. His exposure to military service came early in life. His father Bernard Smith served two tours during the Vietnam War, and was tragically killed in action in 1969 when he was an infantry sergeant with the 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (RAR).
Commissioner Smith followed in the family tradition, enlisting in 1981 with scholarship entry to the Royal Military College Duntroon. He was appointed Commanding Officer of 1RAR in 2003, and commanded the 3rd Brigade in Townsville from 2009 to 2011. The following year, he was promoted to Major General and appointed Commander Joint Task Force 633, responsible for ADF operations in the Middle East.
On his return to home soil, Commissioner Smith assumed command of the Headquarters 1st Division/Deployable Joint Force Headquarters in Brisbane for three years and in 2015 was appointed Deputy Chief of Joint Operations until his retirement from the Australian Army in 2017.
During his military career, he participated in several humanitarian operations, including earthquake/tsunami assistance in Sumatra, Indonesia in the 2003/4 summer, and leading the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Disaster Response to Cyclone Yasi in North Queensland during February 2011.
His last formal duty prior to his transition to civilian life was to read the story of his father’s service at The Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial on 18 August 2017.
‘So that closed the circle on five generations of service by our family,’ Commissioner Smith says.
After leaving the ADF, he became an advisor to the Queensland Premier on community solutions to youth crime and from late 2018 until mid-2019 he was State Disaster Recovery Coordinator for the Central Queensland Bushfires and the North Queensland Monsoon Floods, where he led social, infrastructure, economic and environmental recovery activities across Queensland.
In reflecting on his time in service, Commissioner Smith notes moments when service men and women demonstrated unique qualities of selflessness as stand-out memories.
‘I am forever grateful for being able to witness soldiers, sailors, airmen and women personifying values of excellence, respect and courage,’ he says.
‘I witnessed calm excellence in the manner in which our soldiers maintained the peace and trained border police in Timor in 2003.
‘I saw empathy and respect displayed by Defence men and women towards disasterstricken communities in Far North Queensland during response and recovery operations after Cyclone Yasi in 2011. They adapted ways to clear debris, open roads, evacuate the vulnerable, restore power and get vital supplies into the region.
‘And I was humbled by the persistent courage demonstrated by the people I commanded in the Middle East as they completed complex land, sea and air operations across the Gulf and Afghanistan.’
Commissioner Smith plans on drawing on these inspirational moments in his new position. As the Defence Engagement Commissioner, he is responsible for engaging with the Department of Defence on behalf of the Repatriation Commission, with a focus on strategic planning and advising on what future generations of veterans will look like. He will inform DVA on the future direction of the ADF, ensuring our future veterans have the support they need, when and where they need it.
‘My primary objective is to understand the pathway that a veteran is on from enlistment, through training, operations and transition to another career,’ he says. ‘What are the touchpoints on that pathway for DVA, and how can we improve those touchpoints in terms of policies and procedures to ensure that the next generation of veterans are looked after in the best possible way? Success is a seamless transition.’
The Commissioner planned his own transition well in advance. He suggests serving members need to take a long-term view when considering their transition plan. He believes that the first step is to visualise what work and lifestyle you want for you and your family after your Defence service.
‘Once, you have that vision, you can plan early for the other aspects that will contribute to the wellbeing of you and your family, such as what education you might wish to undertake, housing, and health support.
‘I was fortunate in that I took early advantage of opportunities to prepare myself for transition such as accessing the Defence Home Owner Scheme, completing part-time tertiary study, and submitting my health records through the MyService portal. My goal now is to work with DVA and Defence to replicate a smooth pathway for all our emerging veterans.’
Left: As a UN Truce Supervision Observer in Lebanon, 1993. Right: Taking part in a Ramp Ceremony for an Australian soldier, Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, 2012.
With Flood Recovery Officers in Townsville in 2019 while State Disaster Recovery Coordinator.