Spokane’s Scotty Smiley has shared his story with Fortune 500 companies, national nonprofits, college students and the U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team.
The Army major, who was blinded in a suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq, in 2005, will address a different kind of crowd Friday: the Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“For me, I hope to talk about teamwork, and talk about not just working for the Republican Party and the GOP, but working both sides of the aisle,” Smiley said via phone earlier this week. He moved to Spokane with his wife, Tiffany, and their three sons four years ago.
The Smileys will speak at the event at the invitation of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who found the couple through an op-ed Tiffany Smiley wrote for the Wall Street Journal that was critical of the Veterans Affairs Administration, published last month.
In that piece, Tiffany Smiley – who left her job as a nurse to care for Maj. Smiley after his injury – detailed the difficulty in getting care for her husband from a department overwhelmed by veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
“It was more like a call to action to the nation, and to the new administration, to take veteran’s issues seriously,” said Tiffany Smiley, who called taking care of returning soldiers a “bipartisan issue.”
The list of confirmed speakers at the retreat, which will be held in Philadelphia throughout the latter half of this week, includes former former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.
The Smileys attended Trump’s inauguration Friday at the invitation of McMorris Rodgers, who learned of the couple’s story as a result of the op-ed.
“I think he will just be a source of inspiration and pespective that will be compelling to us as representatives,” the congresswoman said in an interview Monday.
Tiffany and Scotty Smiley met when they attended junior high school in Pasco together, they said by phone Monday before departing for Philadelphia.
“I fell in love with her, and have been holding on ever since,” Scotty Smiley said. “She wouldn’t let me date her until our senior year, though. She said I had to grow up.”
Scotty Smiley attended West Point and was the leader of a platoon attacked by the bomber in 2005. Shrapnel from the explosion lodged itself in Smiley’s eyes, blinding him for life and causing partial paralysis. Today, Scotty Smiley competes in Ironman triathlons and works as an investment banker after a career in the military as a blind active duty officer, rewriting training manuals and teaching for a semester at his alma mater.
“Hope Unseen,” a book about the couple’s experience, was published in 2010.
The Smileys credit their faith for helping them persevere through difficult times, but Tiffany Smiley said their minds are on other returning soldiers who don’t have the same advantages they do.
“I always asked myself, this is so difficult for us,” Tiffany Smiley said. “What’s happening to the soldier that’s not a West Point grad? What’s happening to the soldier who enlisted and doesn’t have a spouse? Who’s looking after them?”
The Republican retreat is held annually for the party to discuss legislative priorities as the new Congress gets underway. That legislative slate, dictated by a Republican-controlled Congress and presidency, has drawn criticism from Democrats who believe the current administration is rolling back efforts made in protecting civil liberties and ensuring public assistance for the poor.
The Smileys said they hope to deliver a nonpartisan message of inspiration at the event.
“I believe, from the get-go, our country has always been divided by a plethora of different beliefs,” Scotty Smiley said. “Despite that, we still have to understand that we are Americans. There’s 50 stars on the American flags representing the 50 states. The legislative branch, the executive branch, has to understand that we are all together.”
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