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Blinded in Iraq, skiing in Vail

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VAIL – Scott Smiley has learned many things over again since April 10, when a suicide blast in Iraq sent shrapnel into his brain and left him blind.He has learned to walk again. He has learned to read again. He’s learned to use a computer again, and how to wash dishes. This week, he’s skiing again.Smiley, a 25-year-old first lieutenant, is skiing with Vail-based Foresight Ski Guides, which provides guides who help him down the mountain. Smiley and his wife, Tiffany, will ski five days before they go home to Fort Lewis, Wash. on Saturday.”At first it was very scary, but then it’s exhilarating and fun,” he said.On Thursday morning, Smiley took three runs down Northwoods, an intermediate run, at times moving surprisingly fast. He didn’t fall once.

“When you’re going down a mountain and you can’t see anything, and you’re used to seeing the horizon and the trees pass by, it’s kind of weird,” he said.His guides, Mark Masto and Steve Rarey, both of Littleton, stayed close to him.”And – left,” Masto said, telling Smiley when to turn and describing the terrain. “And – right. Steeper. And – left.”Between runs, Smiley joked with his wife and his friend, Daniel Rivette, a Fort Carson-based Army captain and snowboarder who found out about Foresight and urged Smiley to participate.”He has the world’s best attitude,” Rivette said of his friend.A fateful encounterSmiley, a 2003 graduate of West Point, was in charge of a 43-man platoon in Mosul, Iraq. He was helping the people of Mosul with the transition of power to the Iraqis, including making sure they had electricity and gas.”It was so fun,” he said. “I could use my leadership qualities.”Most Iraqis were receptive to the U.S. soldiers, he said.”Ninety percent of the community enjoyed us being there,” he said.On April 10, Smiley had been in Iraq for six months. On that day, the platoon was searching for car bombs on a road west of Mosul.Smiley and his men met a suspicious car on the road. Smiley, in the lead vehicle, emerged from the right front hatch of his Stryker armored vehicle and fired off warning shots. His vehicle then blocked the car.

Just as Smiley fired another warning shot, the car exploded. The left side of his head was struck with shrapnel. He lost one eye and was blinded in the other eye. The right side of his body was paralyzed. Smiley was the only member of his platoon who was injured.He was rushed to a hospital in Iraq, then to an Army hospital in Germany. From there, he went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he spent a month and a half. For about two weeks, Smiley’s right side remained paralyzed.”The doctors all thought I was going to be dead or have serious brain injury,” he said.He then attended a blind rehab center in Palo Alto, Calif., for a month. “I had to learn how to walk again,” he said. “It definitely was an eye-opener on the life I had to live and the stuff I had to go through.”‘Totally stood beside me’Smiley is now back at Fort Lewis, and should soon transfer to Fort Monroe in Virginia, where he expects to do desk work and give speeches to new soldiers. He has about two and a half years left of the five-year commitment that West Point cadets give.The first four months after his injury were especially emotional, Smiley said.”Not being able to see colors, not being able to see my wife, I miss all that,” he said. “Now you have to have people describe things to you.”Tiffany, a nurse, has been at his side during his recovery.”Tiffany has been wonderful, totally stood beside me the whole time,” he said.Scott and Tiffany, who have been married for two years, have known each other since middle school. They grew up in Pasco, Wash.”I feel like we just came out of a tornado,” Tiffany said of the last 10 months. “It was hard. But Scotty’s motivation really helped.”In his first four days of skiing this week, Smiley went down Northwoods, Northstar, Avanti and into Game Creek Bowl. He’s trying to improve his turns, he said, trying to carve, not slide.”Now I’m a lot more comfortable on the hill,” he said.The Smileys are staying at Manor Vail, which donated a week’s stay at one of its condos. Frontier Airlines also gave airline tickets for the Smileys.On the Web: http://www.foresightskiguides.com.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or estoner@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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