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NEWS | May 14, 2021

Missouri National Guardsmen takes his culture wherever he goes

By Sgt. Christopher Saunders Missouri National Guard

When Sgt. Christopher Smith, 135th Military History Detachment, Missouri Army National Guard, was a teenager growing up in Wappapello, Missouri, his dad would tell him stories about his military service during the Vietnam War.
“He told me about how he made friends with people from diverse backgrounds and experienced other cultures,” said Smith.
Inspired by his dad’s experiences, Smith decided he too was interested in serving. After exploring his options, he decided that the Army National Guard was the right fit. Smith chose the Guard so he could stay close to home and continue his education. This was important for Smith since his dad was living alone after his mom had recently died, and was beginning to have health complications.
At Smith’s high school graduation ceremony, he noticed someone in attendance wearing an Army dress uniform. After the graduation ceremony, Smith decided to greet the retired major and thank him for his service. They began talking about Smith’s plans to join the Army National Guard and all the places the major had traveled to.
“He asked me if I was from the Philippines, and I said yes,” said Smith “As it turned out, he helped to build and manage the school I went to growing up!”
Before moving to the United States with his grandmother to live with his adopted dad at the age of 13, Smith lived in a two-bedroom house in Davao City, Philippines.
He lived with five other family members, including his younger sister and grandmother, in a two-bedroom house.
“My grandmother pretty much raised us because my mom wasn’t really in the picture. She left when I was seven years old and I haven’t seen her since,” says Smith.
To go to school, Smith can still recall the many hours of commute he would take every day. First, he would walk a couple miles down the road to catch a ride on a scooter cab, then he would pay a jeep fare to take him the rest of the way.
Even though Smith has lived nearly half his life in the U.S., his heritage has stayed an important part of who he is. Smith says he’s often asked why he’s always so happy.
“I think that Filipinos are naturally happy people, and we really cherish togetherness and cohesion,” said Smith. “That’s a part of my culture that I try and bring with me wherever I go.”
Smith’s grandmother met someone from the U.S. and they eventually married. For several years afterward she and her new husband would travel back and forth between the two countries. Smith says that when they would visit it felt like they were a little family. He saw his grandmothers’ new husband like a father.
One day on a trip to the park, Smith and his sister were asked by his grandmother if were if they would be interested in living in the U.S. someday.
Smith says with a laugh, “I actually just thought we were going to visit, I didn’t think we were actually going to stay here permanently.”
In 2008 they began the long process of adoption over the course of many months. Once approved, the four flew to the US, arriving first in Las Vegas.
Smith says when they first arrived all he could hear was the sound of slot machines. At 10 years old, Smith says it was an entirely different world.
“I had so many questions,” said Smith. “Why are there so many people, and why is there a roller coaster outside our hotel window?”
After a few days they flew to their new home in Wappapello, Missouri where Smith finished high school. During his senior year Smith enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard and left for basic training in 2015.
The day before his Basic Training graduation, he was pulled aside by a chaplain who broke the news to Smith that his adopted dad had just passed away. Instead of attending his graduation ceremony Smith immediately went home to care for his sister, who was a minor at the time. After a few months he was able to finally attend his Advanced Individual Training.
Today, Smith works in the Missouri National Guard Family and Warrior Support Office, and recently transitioned to a 46S, Mass Communications Specialist. He also completed his bachelor’s degree in Health Science and plans to eventually become a physician’s assistant.
Despite all the obstacles Smith has overcome to get to where he is now, he remains as positive and motivated as ever. When it comes to the Guard, he says he’s very grateful for the opportunities and career paths it has given him.
“It’s not just about healthcare and free college, I’ve met a lot of great people and enjoy the comradery,” said Smith. “I want to give something back to the country that’s given me so much.”