A smooth transition into law enforcement

Many local residents recognize Mike Smith for the 20 years he served with the Jefferson City Police Department. But as the retired police officer explains, his previous career in the Navy helped smooth his transition into a secondary career in law enforcement.

Born in 1952 in Pittsburgh, Calif., to a father serving in the Air Force, Smith’s family moved around the country and eventually relocated to Pawnee, Ill., where he graduated from high school in 1970.

Enlisting in the U.S. Navy, Smith completed his initial training at Great Lakes, Ill., and then traveled to San Diego for advanced training in marine navigation.

“I was one of those individuals who wasn’t ready for college,” Smith said. “I also had grown up in a military family, so it just seemed like the natural thing to do.”

As the veteran noted, his training prepared him to actually operate or “drive” naval vessels, using radar and the stars to navigate.

With his training completed, Smith received his first assignment in September 1970 to the USS Duluth — an amphibious transport vessel designed to carry a contingent of 600 Marines.

As part of an amphibious readiness group, Smith would help guide the vessel while inserting and retrieving Marines during deployment missions in support of the Vietnam War.

Six years later, he received assignment to the Special Warfare Group in San Diego as a PT boat (fast attack craft) navigator.

“It was good duty,” Smith said. “We would run missions up and down the California coast to ‘wave the flag’ and keep the Navy in the public’s awareness.”

Additionally, Smith’s group was responsible for patrolling a small island serving as a naval bombardment site in an effort to prevent unauthorized access to areas where there was a danger of unexploded ordinance.

Later transferring to a shore duty assignment, he attended the San Diego Police Academy during his free time. Because of his interest in law enforcement and his recent training, he was transferred to a military police unit where he performed criminal investigations.

He went on to spend a brief time in facility management for a naval training school, but in 1982 was transferred to the USS Belleau Wood — a helicopter assault vessel that carried 800 Marines and 40 aircraft.

Over the next four years, the ship completed several deployments to the Western Pacific during which Smith again performed navigational duties.

“The deployments were basically a show of the flag … a ready reaction force of Marines that could quickly respond if a hotspot crept up.”

With his naval career in its latter stages, Smith received a special honor in 1986 when he was one of only four sailors selected to attend the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.

According to Smith, the 7-month course was a graduate level training in management and “very intense, both physically and academically.”

Completing the school the following year, he received his final duty assignment to the Naval Training Center in Pensacola. Fla., where he worked in personnel administration. In 1990, he made the decision to retire with 20 years and 4 months of naval service.

“My children were at the age where they needed their dad to be home,” he said. “My youngest was five years old at the time.”

While going through a retirement seminar, he visited with a sailor from Columbia, who informed him the Jefferson City Police Department (JCPD) was hiring.

Smith applied for a position and was hired by the department before his discharge from the Navy was final.

Relocating to the Holts Summit area with his wife Kristina, and his son and daughter, Smith worked his way from patrol officer to division commander for operations, retiring as a captain in 2010.

Smith maintains his military service not only provided him with the resources to earn a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College after moving to area, but also prepared him for his career with the police department.

“The military environment is what I had known since I was 18 years old — it was the type of structure that I was looking for when I retired from the Navy,” he said.

“And because I came from a disciplined and uniformed environment where I had learned some law enforcement skills, becoming a part of the JCPD was really an easy transition for me.”

Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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