NY Marine Colonel to Attend White House Dinner Honoring Iraq War Vets

A Marine colonel from New York will be representing the state during a dinner at the White House Wednesday night to mark the end of the war in Iraq by recognizing the men and women in uniform who served in Iraq.

Among the 78 Iraq War veterans attending will be Col. Stephanie C. Smith, who hails from Goshen, New York, and served in Iraq in 2004 as the operation law advisor for the commanding general of the 1MEF, otherwise known as the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

She said she was “surprised and happy" to learn that she was chosen to go to the event, which is being billed as A Nation’s Gratitude dinner that will be attended by President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and service members from diverse ranks and their families.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I’m going to the White House, and potentially meeting the president and Mrs. Obama.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama was looking forward to it.

“He is enormously appreciative of the sacrifice and service that the men and women in uniform who served in Iraq provided to their country,” Carney said Tuesday. “I’ve said before, he looks forward to his encounters with the men and women who have served our armed forces very much.”

A widow will also be attending to represent the loved ones of the nearly 4,500 who died serving their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn. In total, about 200 people will be present at the East Room dinner.

Smith said she’s honored to be representing the Empire state.

“I’m proud of my state and the contribution New York makes, not just on 9/11 or in the global war on terror, but certainly in Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.”

Some Iraqi vets think the dinner is a good first step, but would like to see more done, such as parades to fete Iraq war veterans. The Pentagon, however, believes it would be inappropriate to have a big national-level event when many service members are sill in Afghanistan.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said previously that a parade “would be great,” but that the Pentagon has asked the city to postpone any such plans until all soldiers are out of harms way.

Smith, who also served in Afghanistan in 2007, said in her 26 years of service she’s never been part of a parade or one of the units publicly welcomed home, so any recognition is really appreciated.  

“I think that anytime we can successfully get out of an armed conflict, and I certainly feel grateful to come out  unscathed — it was pretty rough in Fallujah  — so I’m grateful,” she said. “I’m grateful that everybody has been brought home and I’m happy that we can have this ceremony to celebrate that occasion.”