Veteran Smith

Navy veteran and Benjamin Russell JROTC instructor Ben Smith, left, talks to students Scott Johnson, middle, and Brady Roberts, right.

U.S. Navy veteran Ben Smith may be retired but he is continuing his dream job of mentoring as the senior naval science instructor at Benjamin Russell.

Smith was preparing to retire as a lieutenant commander in December when his boss told him about the open position at Benjamin Russell. Smith said his favorite part of serving in the Navy was mentoring junior sailors.

“The more senior I got (in the Navy) the less I got to deal with the junior folks, the less that I did, and that’s part of the reason I retired when I did was it got to be more management, more desk time, more meetings and less being out working with people,” Smith said.

Smith joined the Navy in 1994, went through college from 1998-2002 and was commissioned in 2002. He was a surface warfare officer during his career.

Originally from Douglasville, Georgia, Smith said he joined the Navy to get married and have a steady job.

“The nuclear field looked attractive to me and offered a lot of technical training,” Smith said. “It was a good job and those were hard to find. I got married before I left for boot camp because I knew the Navy was going to pay the bills. I haven’t looked back.”

Smith went to Orlando for nuclear power school after boot camp, then served on the USS Enterprise as an auxiliary divisions officer and operated a power plant.

Smith then served on the USS San Jacinto in Norfolk, Virginia, as a training officer before doing a tour in Yokosuka, Japan, on the USS Curtis Wilbur as an operations officer.

Smith then served again on the Enterprise as a reactor controls assistant. He finished his career as an instructor at Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery where he retired as lieutenant commander in 2018.

During his time in the Navy, Smith enjoyed dealing with junior sailors, guiding them and watching them grow. Smith said it’s the same thing with instructing Benjamin Russell’s Navy JROTC where he teaches instruction and leads physical training.

“We really are stressing cadet leadership that I need to be able to step back and be a safety monitor and they need to learn to do it and that’s a lot to tell a 17-year-old, ‘You’re in charge,’” Smith said. “But that’s what we’re here to learn and it’s tough. It’s been an adjustment, but they’re stepping up and they’re doing well.”

Smith said about 60 students take part in JROTC and dress in uniform and exercise once a week for the class.

Smith said most of the students don’t plan on joining the military and he’s not trying to recruit them.

“We have a lot of fun,” Smith said. “They learn character. They learn leadership, they learn things that are going to get them ready for life and I’m not a recruiter. Getting them in the military is not my job.”