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Honoring Our Heroes

COL Edgar Leslie Smith III: Age 77

COL Edgar L. Smith is a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran who served 27 years in active duty including two tours in Vietnam as well as deployments to Germany and the Panama Canal. He received the following medals, badges and citations: the Combat Infantry Badge, the Expert Infantry Badge, four Bronze Stars with “V” device and over additional Bronze Stars, the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device and two oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart with oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with 5th award, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Gold Palm, the Vietnamese Honor Medal First Class, the Senior Parachute Badge, the Army Pathfinder Badge, Federal Republic of Germany Parachutist Badge, the Army General Staff Badge, the Alabama Distinguished Service Medal and numerous unit combat awards.

COL Smith was born October 19, 1942, in Columbia, SC, to Edgar L. Smith II and Ruth Smith. He was reared in St. John, WA, where he graduated from St. John High School followed in 1966 by graduation as a Distinguished Military Graduate from Washington State University with a BA Degree with a major in English and a minor in Military Science.

COL Smith entered military service January 24, 1966, and reported to Fort Benning, GA, where he completed courses in Platoon Leadership and Air Borne Division. He was sent to the 82nd Air Borne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, where he was a rifle platoon leader and battalion adjunct. In 1967, he was deployed to Vietnam where he served as a rifle platoon leader with Company A, 2nd Battalion (Air Assault), 1st Calvary Division (Air Mobile) in the Central Highlands. Twice he was wounded, returned to duty and assigned as the battalion’s intelligence officer. Then he served as the commander of Company A, 2nd Battalion 5th Calvary (Air Assault) leading his rifle company in the relief of Khe Sahn and Dong Ha.

COL Smith returned to the States in July, 1968, where he completed two command assignments, namely, of Company A, 5th Battalion 1st Infantry at Fort Campbell, KY, and of Company A, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry (Mechanized) in Fort Riley, KY. These assignments were followed by completion of the Armor Officer Advance Course in Fort Knox, KY.

In 1970, Col Smith returned to Vietnam where he commanded Company A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary (Air Assault), 1st Calvary Division (Air Mobile) and then was selected as aide-de-camp to General Michael Davison, Commander of II Field Force Vietnam. In June 1971, he was deployed to Heidelberg, Germany, where he continued to serve as General Davison’s aide while the General served as the commander of the U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army. He then served as the Intelligence Officer of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Infantry, Berlin Brigade and the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, Berlin Brigade.

Returning to the States, COL Smith served as Assistant Professor of Military Science at Rice University at Houston, TX, followed by his attendance at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS. He was then sent to serve as the S3, 1st Battalion, 35th selected to serve as the Training Officer for the 25th Infantry Division and then became Chief, G3 Plans and Operations for the Division. Following this assignment, he served as Commander, 9th Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Brigade, Fort Benning, GA.

COL Smith was deployed to the Republic of Panama in 1987 as Deputy Director, Small Wars Operations Research Directorate (SWORD), U.S. Southern Command, achieved the rank of full colonel and became the Director of SWORD followed by assignment as Deputy Commander, Special Operations Command South, US SOUTHCOM in 1988. His last assignment was Inspector General for the Alabama National Guard in Montgomery, AL, where he retired from active duty July 31, 1993.

After his military retirement, he created the Army Junior ROTC battalion at Calhoun and Central High Schools in Lowndes County, AL, working with that program for 10 years until retirement in July 2003. He has continued service to his country by his membership and leadership in veterans’ organizations including the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Sons of the American Revolution, Association of the U. S. Army, the American Legion, Post 2, Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 12, Military Officers Association of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 96. He participates in the Auburn University at Montgomery Army ROTC award ceremonies and commissioning ceremonies.

COL Smith has three sons and six grandchildren. He enjoys watching the televised program, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), and he is a member of the Eastmont Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.

COL Smith emphatically expresses his loyalty to his country after serving in the U. S. military saying, “I believe in service to the country. In fact, I have two American flags flying in front of my apartment. To have what we have and to live with the freedoms that we enjoy, that was worth fighting for.”


Larry Armstead: Age 66

Larry Armstead is a veteran who served three years in the U. S. Army and four years in the AL Air National Guard. His awards and medals include: Expert Infantry Badge (including being the Distinguished Graduate) and Good Conduct Medal.

Armstead was born September 4, 1954, in Montgomery, AL, to his parents, Charlie and Annie Armstead. He was reared in Snowdoun, AL, until he was 11 years old when his father passed away, and his mother brought him and his seven siblings to Montgomery to live and where he graduated from Lanier High School in 1972. Three months after graduation under the military three-month-delayed-entry program, Armstead volunteered for military service and enlisted in the U. S. Army Infantry beginning at the rank of E3. He completed Basic Training at Fr. Ord, CA, where his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was Infantry 11th Bravo. At age 18, he then volunteered and completed three months of paratrooper training at Ft. Benning, Ga. He was sent to Ft. Campbell, KY, for 16 weeks of Advanced Infantry Training. There he was promoted to Sergeant and became a Squad Leader of an M60 Machine Gun Squadron. While there, he began counseling soldiers returning from Vietnam War hazardous combat service. Armstead was then promoted to the rank of E5 while helping the returning Vietnam soldiers. Armstead says, “They taught me a couple of things that I still use in my life. What is your mission, and what is the welfare of the people with whom you are working? If you focus too much on the mission or too much on the people, you won’t accomplish much. I try to live that way. I try to treat everybody the way that I want to be treated.”

His next assignment was in Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare (CBR) where for three months, he was trained at Ft. Campbell in the use of nerve gas and chemical agents that could be deployed against soldiers, and for 16 months, he went back and trained his officers how to use protective clothing and equipment. Armstead was then deployed to Baumholder, Germany, where he served as the Squad Leader for a tank brigade for 12 months. He returned to the U.S.A. where he was discharged in Ft. Jackson, SC, from military service in October 1975. Lastly, Armstead served as the base photographer at Dannelly Field with the 187th Alabama Air National Guard before returning completely to civilian life.

Armstead received a B.S. Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Alabama State University in 1979. He immediately became employed with the Montgomery Police Department where he served 21 years followed by four years as the Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Montgomery, AL. From 2003-2009,

Armstead served as the Senior Manager of General Affairs with the Hydundai Motor Manufacturing Montgomery encompassing security, protocol, building two new cafeterias, etc. He then operated his own private investigative business for two years. In 2011, Armstead became Director of Security and Access Control for Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) for 10 buildings and nine parking decks in Montgomery and Mobile overseeing 125 security contractors and four access control security officers.

Armstead has a deep, genuine love for his family especially for his four daughters from previous marriages, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He is an active member of the Maggie Street Missionary Baptist Church where he sings tenor in the mass choir and in the Voice of Thunder Male Chorus. He gives his personal time serving as a mentor to adults and youth seeking help.

When summarizing his personal life and his military service, Armstead says, “I wanted to put myself in a position that I could help my family. I knew what my mother had gone through supporting my brothers and me. I personally grew up in the military. My parents instilled in me that I should always believe in a higher power. The military taught me how to prioritize my life. It taught me structure, responsibility, how to fight towards a cause and to live for a reason, to be productive with your life and to give something back.”


SMSgt Jeff Holland Jr.

Senior Master Sergeant Jeff Holland Jr. served in the United States Air Force for 22 years. His awards and medals include: Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak clusters, Air Force Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with one oak leaf cluster, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award with two oak leaf clusters, Good Conduct Medal with five oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Overseas Long Tour Ribbon, Air Force Longevity Service Award Ribbon with four oak leaf clusters, NCO Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon with two oak leaf clusters and Air Force Training Ribbon.

Holland was born at Griffin, GA, October 12, 1959, to his parents, Jeff Holland Sr. and Vivian Marie Holland. He was reared there and graduated from Griffin High School in 1978. Holland worked as a laborer baling hay and bush hogging for his father until he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a 702X0, Information Manager, which he did for his entire career.

Holland’s Air Force assignments took him to a variety of Air Force installations. His first tour of duty was Plattsburgh AFB, NY for 18 months then to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, for 18 months followed by an assignment to Offutt Air Force Base at Omaha, NE, for four years. He then applied for and was accepted to a special duty assignment to Area 51, at Tonopah, NV. This was a top-secret assignment. Holland was then assigned to Langley AFB, Hampton, VA, continuing this type of work. In June 1992, Holland played a integral role in the standup of the Air Combat Command which combined the Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command. His last assignment was at Maxwell, AFB, Montgomery, AL, where he worked as the Superintendent of the Commander’s Professional Development School at Ira C. Eaker College. SMSgt Holland retired on August 1, 2000. During his military career, Holland received an Associate Degrees in Information Management and Personnel Administration and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Management from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in May 1995.

Since 2001, Holland has been working at Reinhardt Lexus in Montgomery, AL. He started as a valet and greeter and currently serves as the Service Operations Manager. He and his wife, Denise, have been married eight years. Holland has one stepson and one step-grandchild, Allison Grace. They are active members of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, where he serves in various ministries serving as a deacon, drummer in the church’s orchestra, church security, and a board member of Children’s Hope Ministry in Haiti. They enjoy reading, mentoring, sewing, cooking, walking/running, working out and golfing. Denise states, “I am grateful for Jeff having served his country and served with such passion for our freedom.” Denise also elaborates on Jeff’s faith, stating, “He is a God fearing husband and loves the Lord!”

Holland’s conclusions about his military service are, “Considering that less than one percent of the U. S. population serves in the military, I thought that it was so important to do something that meant more to me probably than anything that I had ever done workwise. Serving our country 24 hours a day for more than 20 years has meant more to me as a commitment to help me realize that it is never about one person. It is about with whom you serve.

Although I was a member of the Air Force, my Army, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard comrades were all one team. We are called to defend this country whenever the United States flag, Old Glory, flies. The reason we serve is so all Americans and our allies can enjoy the freedoms we have today. If I could convince more of our youth, especially our young men, to do a two or four-year term, they would be amazed how much more they would appreciate this great country.”


Col Benjamin J. Hulsey III:

Col Benjamin J. Hulsey III served 28 years in the U.S. Air Force. He received the following medals and awards: Legion of Merit with 1 oak leaf cluster, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal with 1 oak leaf cluster, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Air Force Outstanding Unit award with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award with two oak leaf clusters, Combat Readiness Medal with one oak leaf cluster, National Defense Service Medal with one service star, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border, Air Force Longevity Service Award with six oak leaf clusters, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, and Air Force Training Ribbon.

Hulsey was born in Gainesville, GA, to his parents, Benjamin and Dorothy Hulsey, in 1961, and he was reared there. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts and graduated from Gainesville High School in 1979. He then graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. He completed navigator flight training at Mather AFB, CA, followed by a three-month assignment to KC-135 aircraft refueling training at Castle AFB, CA.

Hulsey next served for six years at Grissom AFB, IN, flying worldwide missions, and he participated in his first combat duty during Operation JUST CAUSE, the invasion of Panama and removal of dictator, Manuel Noriega. Hulsey served four times in Alabama with the first as a faculty instructor teaching leadership for two years at Squadron Officer School (SOS).

He then transferred to Auburn University serving as the Commandant of Cadets, Air Force ROTC Detachment 5 for three years. Hulsey states, “I enjoyed teaching and mentoring cadets, and it was inspiring later in my career to see Auburn graduates in uniform serving their country.”

He returned to his flying duties with the KC-135 at McConnell AFB, KS, followed by his third tour in AL returning to Maxwell AFB where he was a student at the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). He was then assigned to the Pentagon for two years as an Action Officer at Air Force Headquarters. Next, he was selected for Squadron Command at Fairchild AFB, WA, for two years followed by an assignment to the Naval War College in Newport, RI.

Hulsey was next assigned to the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott AFB, IL. While there, he deployed in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM and served as the initial cadre for the USCENTCOM Deployment and Distribution Operations Center (CDDOC) in the theater. For five months, his duties included leveraging logistics expertise and technology to get combat supplies in the 40 foot commercial shipping containers at the port in Kuwait along with the combat supplies on metal pallets used for air cargo to the war fighters downrange in Iraq and other areas. While there, Hulsey accompanied a 28-vehicle tractor trailer supply convoy from Kuwait to Balad AB, north of Baghdad along hazardous roads where hidden IED’s were often lurking.

He returned to the Pentagon for his second tour for two years as Director of the Air Force’s 60th Anniversary Task Force, which planned and dedicated the Air Force Memorial adjacent to Arlington Cemetery overlooking the Pentagon. Hulsey then returned to Maxwell AFB to The Air University Headquarters as Director of Staff for the Commander and served until his retirement in 2011.

Hulsey and his wife, Connie, have been married 33 years, and they have one child and two grandchildren. Hulsey praises his wife’s loyal support during his military career as a true partner caring for officer and enlisted spouses while their military members were deployed. They are active members of First Baptist Church of Montgomery where he serves as a deacon and Sunday school teacher, and he also serves as the Coordinator each fall for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, collecting shoe boxes filled with gifts of toys, school supplies and hygiene items for needy children to be sent across the globe at Christmas. They have gone on mission trips to Guatemala, Senegal and the Holy Land trying to be God’s agent of love, light, and life. Hulsey and his wife enjoy visiting Alabama’s Gulf Coast and the mountains as well as being with their families in Ohio and Georgia.

When Hulsey reflects upon his military service, he states, “I never asked my airmen to do something that I would not do. The military provided me with opportunities to give back to my country for all the opportunities and experiences that I had growing up. Throughout my military career and as a cancer survivor, I learned that life is hard. Honestly, life is a battleground, not a playground. I have chosen Jesus as my role model and guide. My life verse is Colossians 3:23-24: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart as serving the Lord not men since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ that you are serving.’ While the world screams at us to pursue money and materialism at all costs, there is a better path. It is obeying God’s gentle voice to lead a life of significance and meaning.”


Geoff Allen Colt: Age 73

Geoff Allen Colt served in the U. S. Air Force in the Vietnam War attached to the 22nd Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) where he was assigned as a radio operator at a U. S. Army Special Forces Camp on the Bassac River near the Cambodian border. He worked in a radio room in the center of the village of Chau Doc located three miles south of the Camp. Colt provided intelligence reports on enemy troop movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Besides living in primitive conditions with limited food and water, there was always the danger of attacks from the Viet Cong.

Colt received the following medals and awards: Air Force Commendation Medal, Outstanding Unit with “V” Device with One Oak Leaf Cluster, Vietnam Service Ribbon with Three Bronze Stars, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Vietnamese Campaign Ribbon and One Year National Guard Service Ribbon.

Colt was born January 6, 1947, to his parents, Hallock Colt and Grace Baker Colt, at East Providence, RI, and graduated from Veterans Memorial High School at Warick, RI, in 1965. Coming from a strong military background of service including his grandfather who served in WWI, his father in WWII and the Korean War, and later his younger brother in Desert Storm in Irag, Colt continued this path of military service by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in January, 1966. He completed Basic Training at Lackland AFB, TX, and then received training in combat radio operations.

After his discharge from military service at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL, in 1969, he moved to Rhode Island and worked 12 years as a tool and die maker in the machine shop of Brown and Sharp Co., and then he worked 17 years for the Hasbro Co. making prototypes of toys. He assisted others by driving for a drug and alcohol center for five years.

Colt and his wife, Peggy, have been married 50 years, and after each retired, they moved to Millbrook, AL. They enjoy traveling all over the USA, and he enjoys watching televised women’s college fast-pitch softball. Colt voluntarily serves as the Captain of the Honor Guard at veterans’ funerals providing the flag ceremony and the gun-salute, and as a member of Chapter 607 Vietnam Veterans of America, he serves on its Steering Committee.

Colt’s conclusions about his military service are, “I learned a lot about myself as a man and about other people. I just feel that the country, the people in it and our way of life are worth it. If I had to do it, I would do it all over again even with the way we treated when we came home.”


Rear Admiral Fernandez Ponds, USN, Ret. Age: 60

Rear Admiral Fernandez (RDML) “Frank” Ponds is a retired United States Navy officer from the state of Alabama who served 33 years in senior executive, operational and managerial positions with the U.S. Department of Defense and interagency. He dedicated his career to developing people, creating high-performing organizations, and driving transformation through continuous process improvement. He held five Navy Command positions afloat and ashore, leading joint, multinational, and interagency organizations in a complex global security environment. From 2001 to 2015, he served as Commander USS Fife (DD-991), Commander Amphibious Squadron Eight. As an Admiral, he served as Commander Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific Hawaii, Commander Navy Region Hawaii, and Commander Expeditionary Strike Group Three.

Operationally, he directed military forces during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), counter-drug operations and counter-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia. As Mission Commander, he conducted disaster relief operations to Bangladesh in 2007 and Haiti in 2008 and led multinational forces during Operation Continuing Promise ’08 (CP’08). Operation Continuing Promise was a primary Theater Security Cooperation mission with seven nations within the Caribbean, South, and Central America.

His shore assignments include Inspector for Pacific Fleet’s Propulsion Examination Board; Inspector on the Office of the Navy Inspector General Staff; OPNAV Resources, Requirements and Assessment (N81/N00X); OPNAV Operations, Plans, and Strategy (N3/N5); Senior Naval Advisor in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Department of State during 2005 Pakistan earthquake relief operations, 2006 Lebanon non-combatant evacuation operation, and Hurricane Katrina disaster relief and as Special Assistant to the Commander Surface Forces, US Pacific Fleet. He was also a Senior Fellow on the 2010 Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group. Additional sea assignments included Damage Control Assistant and Assistant First Lieutenant in USS Mauna Kea (AE 22); Boilers Material Officer in USS Midway (CV 41); Engineering Officer in USS Berkeley (DDG 15); Flag Secretary for Commander Amphibious Group 1 (CTF 76); and as Executive Officer, USS Paul F. Foster (DD 964).

RDML Ponds received the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (four), Meritorious Service Medal (five), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (three), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and numerous campaign and unit awards. He has the distinction of being selected as an Honorary Navy Chief Petty Officer and was awarded The 2013 George Washington Black Alumni Association Impact Award for his contributions and impact within the local community and across the whole-of-government in implementing security, energy, environmental, historical and educational initiatives throughout the Region of Hawaii.

RDML Ponds was born in Autaugaville, AL, where he was reared and graduated from Autaugaville High School in 1977. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 1982 with a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice and minors in anthropology and psychology. He received his commission from Officer Candidate School in June 1983. Ponds holds a Master of Science in Information Systems Technology from George Washington University, a Master of Science in Military Studies from the Marine Corps Command and Staff

College, and a Master of Science in National Security Strategy from the National War College, National Defense University. He is a graduate of the Darden Corporate Business School, Emergency Management Leadership, and the National Association for Corporate Directors.

RDML Ponds is currently the principal and owner of FPONDS LLC Independent Consultant providing consultant services in ethics, leadership and professional development, defense and national security, strategic planning, maritime safety and security through analytically based sustainable solutions tailored to meet the needs of the customer.

RDML Ponds and his wife, Carol, have been married 27 years, and they have two adult children. His daughter is a practicing pediatrician, and his son is a member of the United States Air Force. He volunteers in the communities of San Diego, CA, and his hometown of Autaugaville, AL, and dedicates time to mentor young naval officers. He enjoys reading, walking, sports, golf and being around family and friends.

In reflecting upon the influence that his family made on his life, RDML Ponds says, “I have always felt that it was my civic duty to give back to those who have gone before me and to provide opportunities and advice to those who will come after me. I was blessed and graced by my Lord with loving grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie and Ovetta Caver, a loving mother, Mrs. Myrtle Mainor, a close-knit family and many others in the community who kept me focused and on the right track. They provided me with a sense of purpose demanding that I do my best, be my best and always treat others with respect. Most importantly, they demonstrated through personal example that given the opportunity, with hard work, a person can achieve many things, no matter the odds.”

The following summarizes RDML Ponds’ military service: “During my time in the Navy, I learned that character and competence are the keys to success, that nothing is given, and that everything must be earned. I stood on the shoulders of African American pioneers and walked the trails that they blazed for me to follow. I am grateful for their sacrifices and the opportunity to carry on the rich tradition of service to my country. As a young man from a small town of 900-plus folks, the Navy allowed me to see the world and to meet people from all walks of life. My travels allowed me to appreciate my small town and my humble beginnings. My goal is to continue a journey of service so that I can make my grandparents, mother, family, and community proud. If I can do that, then this life that I have lived will not have been in vain.”


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