Associate Spotlight – Doing Her Part
Army Veteran’s Experience Helps Define Career
When Maggie Smith and 40 fellow female Army recruits arrived at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, it didn’t take long for her to realize she was worlds away from her native Oswego, Illinois.
“The minute our bus pulled up, the drill sergeant walked in and immediately started yelling – it was just like the movies,” Smith said, with a laugh. “It was probably the biggest culture shock, to this day, of my entire life.”
Nearly 30 years later, the Benchmark associate can laugh about her introduction to the military and she can appreciate the positive impact the decision to join the military had on her.
“It’s a great way to give back and to also learn about yourself and learn about other people,” she said. “You have experiences you’ll probably never have again in your life.”
A friend’s conversation
It wasn’t until she caught up with an old friend, who was on leave from the Navy, when she decided to enlist in the Army.
“I really had never thought about it, but the more I considered it, it felt like it could be a win-win,” she said. “It would buy me a little more time to figure out what I wanted to do.”
Maggie spent 8-weeks in basic training at Fort Jackson. It involved a series of grueling tasks each member had to pass in order to move on to the next step. If you failed a task, you were required to repeat a portion of the training that you didn’t pass, joining a new group of women to do so.
The pressure kept Maggie motivated.
“My group was super supportive. It was a really interesting experience because everybody wanted each other to succeed,” she explained. “We supported one another, and we all did pass.”
Once she graduated from training, Maggie was assigned to Fort Rucker in Alabama, where she served as a flight operations specialist and provided support to the pilots and the air traffic control tower.
Working alongside many male counterparts, she was even more compelled to succeed.
“I always felt I had to prove myself. I’d tell myself I can keep up, I can run this, and really, it does build your confidence,” Maggie said. “You start to change your thinking to ‘I’ve done this, I can do this’. It was empowering.”
As part of her service, Maggie was assigned to work in Seoul, South Korea for a year. Though she served in peaceful times, she was there for some intense moments, like when a U.S. helicopter was shot down and the pilot was taken prisoner in North Korea.
She also recalled how interesting it was to see news back home unfold through the eyes of the South Korean soldiers she was stationed with.
“Everybody was watching the OJ Simpson police-chase on TV. Everyone was like ‘what is going on in America?!’” she said.
She was sent back to Fort Rucker, where she served until 1996. After that, she eventually moved to Massachusetts and used the GI Bill to get her degree at Northeastern University.
Maggie said the whole experience prepared her for a career in human resources. She has served as a Regional Business Partner at Benchmark since 2008.
She’s eternally grateful for her military experience and for the sacrifices her fellow veterans have made on behalf of their country – both in combat and in life.
“I really admire the people who have really made a lifelong commitment to the military and to their country. That blows me away,” she said. “They are essentially choosing to put their lives in the hands of the military. I have major respect for those people.”