In honor of Veterans Day, the Purple Heart Foundation wanted to make it a point to share some unique stories and points of view from some of our Veterans. We had the chance to interview Alden Smith Bradstock, III. Mr. Bradstock, or Smitty, is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1977 and then went on to receive a Master of Engineering degree from the University of South Carolina.
Smitty entered West Point in 1973 and played lacrosse. In fact, the NCAA had allowed college freshmen to play on a Division 1 Varsity lacrosse team beginning in 1972, making him one of the earliest college freshmen to start on a Division 1 lacrosse team. When Smitty graduated from West Point in 1977, he was commissioned as an officer in the Army.
Smitty is also a published author. He wrote the book entitled, His Destiny, An American Flier. This book is all about American military aviation, ground combat and politics during World War I. It speaks measures to the devotion to duty and the various hardships of military service.
Smitty’s story is very unique, especially in regards to life and career path after serving. He has been able to stay involved in the military and veteran community very heavily, while also pursuing an extremely successful career in the private sector. We had the chance to speak with him about why he decided to join the Army, how that has affected his life, and what it means to him to be a veteran.
1. What made you want to join the US Army?
I had witnessed the Vietnam War on television as a young man and decided I wanted to serve and hopefully, make a difference. Having grown up and visited the Naval Academy while in high school, I was intrigued by the military academies and wanted an opportunity to get a good college education in the sciences. The service academies seemed to offer an excellent education with leadership training that would best fulfill my dream of serving the country.
2. Can you provide some details on your time in the service?
a. What branch?
I entered the Army as a Field Artillery officer and obtained a secondary specialty as a Facilities and Construction Contract Management Engineer.
b. What was your rank?
I left the service in 1988 as a Major.
I served in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, the 59th Ordnance Brigade as a Commander of an artillery unit in Germany during the Cold War, and as a facilities engineer at Fort Jackson, SC. My service with the 82nd put me in three deployment situations. We were called out during an uprising in Zaire, Africa in 1978, to support the Special Forces when the Iranians held American civilians hostage in Tehran, and when the rescue mission was ordered by President Carter to retrieve the hostages.
3. What was your most defining moment in the military?
I was promoted 1 year early to the rank of Major in 1986, one of 43 out of 3,500 Army Captains eligible for early promotion. The situation taught me many things. At first, I felt like I was on top of the world, I could do nothing wrong. That helped me to realize that one’s ego can get out of hand. I had witnessed leaders who would not listen to subordinates. I had also had the pleasure of working with leaders who were well grounded, confident and calm under pressure. These thoughts brought me to understand that I was promoted early for who I was, not what my ego made me think I should be. I should be the same person as I was before the promotion. It was a defining moment in my professional life.
4. What is your favorite memory/story?
I have many, many fond memories of my service in the military. So, I’d have to say my time in the Army is one big favorite memory. I have many stories of attending Airborne and Ranger schools; jumping out of airplanes (and jet aircraft); moving military equipment and soldiers by helicopters called, Airmobile; setting up and firing howitzers into multiple and very distant target areas; getting called out for deployment into possible combat operations; firing a Lance missile at a test range from the island of Crete; leading soldiers of various units in multiple locations in the United States and Germany, serving with the German military; and training at various military and civilian schools I had attended. But, the best of it all was working with dedicated and very capable professionals, service personnel who defended our country under all circumstances and with great burdens placed upon them and their family members. The greatest contribution one can give is putting one’s life and limbs on the line so that other Americans can live safe and secure. All of our military service personnel do that 24/7, 365 days every year. It is a memory that we should all burn in our minds and never forget.
5. I am aware that you were wounded while in the service, could you please provide more information?
I was injured numerous times while on active duty, which resulted in me being declared permanently disabled when I left the service in 1988.
a. Where and when did this happen?
I was first injured at West Point during my senior year, which resulted in me having surgery. The injury-plagued me throughout my military career on Airborne jumps, military maneuvers, and other related training activities. I underwent many procedures and physical therapies as I re-injured myself over the years.
b. How were you wounded/injured?
Recurring injuries to my knee.
c. How has that injury affected you?
Today, 41 years after the first injury, I consider myself very lucky to be able to walk without much pain. However, I have constant recurring injuries that take weeks to heal. Like all people with disabilities, I’ve learned to be careful, watch for signs of further injury, and deal with injuries when they occur. As the orthopedic surgeon told me a few years ago, the pain will tell me when I need to replace the joint.
6. What does being a Veteran and having served your country mean to you?
Many Americans had great disdain for military service personnel when I was growing up. I’m sure many people have heard stories of how poorly military members were treated by civilians during the Vietnam era. Those stories are true, as I watched them play out every evening on the national news on TV. To see how America has positively responded to our service personnel in the last 20 to 30 years is a true testament to the resolve and respect Americans have for one another, and particularly for those that have and continue to protect our way of life. Experiencing a handshake, pat on the back, or thank you for my service and the service of others sometimes brings me to the tears of great satisfaction. The transformation from the 1960’s and 70’s to today is something that few people know, but everyone should recognize and be extremely proud of it.
7. What have you been doing since leaving the military?
The military taught me many things such as the importance of hard work, mutual respect, devotion to important causes, and above all, how integrity plays such a vital role in our daily lives. I see tremendous parallels in civilian life to military service and try to emulate those ideals in whatever I do. As I was while in my military career, I have been very busy throughout my civilian career. I bought into an engineering company in 1990, formed other companies, and worked hard to make sure those companies provided excellent service to our customers. I’ve worked in those few companies since leaving the military. And, as in the military, it is very rewarding to work with dedicated and devoted people in all aspects of my daily life.
8. Can you talk about the organization you work for, Veteran Design & Construction, Inc What does your organization do?
We have a very special and unique company. While many companies design or build buildings, we are licensed and insured to do both with our “in-house” personnel. So, we design and/or construct high-density residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings and their infrastructures. Part of our company has registered professional engineers on staff who design and manage the design of our projects. The other part of the company includes constructors who plan and execute the construction of facilities. As a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, we can bid on projects throughout the United States that are restricted to that category of businesses. To keep things as simple as possible, we try to stay on the Eastern seaboard. As we have all been doing this for a long time, I am proud to say our folks are very good at what they do.
a. How did you get involved?
I received Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering degrees in mechanical engineering while I was in the military. My education and secondary specialty in the Army, as a Facilities and Construction Contract Management Engineer, prepared me for what I do today. So, I have a lot to thank the Army for. I joined a private engineering company when I returned to Maryland after leaving the service. I stayed with the company as its Chairman for 26 years. During that time, I had formed a number of companies with my partners. One of them dovetailed into the present company that I now own.
b. Is your organization active in the veteran community?
Our business is somewhat specialized, but we look to hire Veterans and attend Veteran functions as much as possible. We also work with the Baltimore Station, a non-profit organization devoted to helping Veterans with afflictions such as personal difficulties and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It’s interesting, but there seems to be an unspoken separation between the Veteran and civilian communities. We attend various functions together and civilian companies work for Federal contracting officers. But the two communities don’t naturally interact with one another very often. We can definitely learn from one another, but the synergies are not quite there.
9. Anything else you would like to share?
I appreciate the efforts of your organization to bring the stories of Veterans to the public.
10. What is something you wish that the public knew about the veteran community?
While Americans appreciate military personnel today more than ever before, civilians do not have an in-depth understanding of the many trials and tribulations service personnel and their family members have to endure. Military service requires all personnel to be prepared to deploy on a moment’s notice. Family members including, spouses and children are expected to deal with deployments and the hardships that come with them. During the Gulf and Afghan wars, some service members deployed for extended duty in combat zones 4 to 5 different times. The stress and strain of those instances place unbelievable pressure on loved ones. We just cannot do enough to help support those that must deal with these difficulties. And, they are doing it voluntarily to protect us every day.
Smitty was able to transition his military career into an extremely successful engineering career. It was through all of his training and experience in the United States Army that prepared him for what he has been doing since leaving the service. Not only has he been successful, he has continued to help other disabled veterans, just like himself, in both the workforce and through various charitable events and organizations. Though his service in the US Army and to our country may have technically ended when he left the service in 1988, he has not stopped making a difference.
Smitty raised an extremely important point during his interview in regards to our Military members, their families, and the difficulties that they are both forced to face. Though it is the service member who has bravely volunteered to protect this country at all costs, their families are significantly impacted as well. And, as hard as it is on them, they all volunteer their services. They need just as much support as our military members and veterans. The Purple Heart Foundation has various programs developed to help support not only our veterans but their spouses, children, families as well. We are committed to helping every single man and woman who has served our country. It is our mission to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for our veterans and their families. You can show your support for our heroes and their families and continue to grow and support the programs that assist them in making a one-time or monthly donation.