Professional officer, athlete is living the good life

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
When Erik Smith was recruited his senior year in high school to play lacrosse and football, his options to play both sports at the next level came from as far away as Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. But it was a school closer to home that continued their pursuit of the All-American lacrosse star that eventually signed him.

The Golden, Colo., native had never considered the United States Air Force Academy as an option to play lacrosse in college.

"I figured I would take the one hour drive for an official visit to the academy in January of my senior year in high school," he said.

After his visit to Colorado Springs, Colo., and seeing firsthand what the academy offered academically and athletically, Smith became more interested.

"Among the many reasons for me to consider the academy was the academics," said Smith, who had always aspired to attend a strong academic university. "The opportunity to get a degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and have a guaranteed job after graduation was something I wanted."

After he signed his letter of intent to play lacrosse at the academy, the soon-to-be cadet knew he would receive a great education. But with no military service in his family, the military was still unfamiliar to him.

He admits that at first he was at the academy to play lacrosse, but that changed during his freshmen year. It was during that time he began to understand what "service" meant. Something the new second lieutenant now realizes is far more important that being a professional athlete.

After a successful collegiate career, the 2014 academy graduate and two-year captain of the lacrosse team was drafted 37th overall by the Boston Cannons in last year's Major League Lacrosse draft, the first for a former Air Force Academy player. And while that was an honor and privilege for him and his family, so was graduating from the academy.

"That honor is bigger than any sport; I'm serving the greatest country in the world," Smith said, who currently is a program manager in the C3I and Networks Directorate here. "The honor is much greater than playing lacrosse professionally."

And whether he is on a lacrosse field or serving in the Air Force, Smith said during an interview with New England Sports Network (NESN) for a story that is scheduled to air May 22 at 5:30 and 10 p.m., the two are more alike than people may think.

As an Air Force officer, I am working as part of a team charged with an important mission to upgrade communications systems in Air Force fighter and bomber aircraft, the lieutenant said. As a professional lacrosse player for the Boston Cannons, Smith said he is part of a team that goes out and competes each Sunday to accomplish a goal.

While each is very different, he said, each is similar in that without working together as a team, goals are not accomplished.

"You need to rely on the professional next to you to get the job done," he said. "So whether it's lacrosse or the military or business, you're relying on coworkers -- your teammates -- to help get the job done."

When asked how he finds time to balance the schedule of a commissioned officer in the Air Force and that of a professional athlete, the lieutenant said it can be a challenge, but his priorities are clear.

"My number one responsibility is as a program manager focused on providing the best warfighting capabilities in our aircraft," said Smith.

To play for the Cannons Smith was required to complete a part time employment waiver with the legal office at the beginning of training camp earlier this spring.

Smith, who recently scored his first two professional goals during a game against the New York Lizards May 3, appreciates the opportunities he has to serve in and out of uniform.

"In the military, we serve to help people in need around the world," he said. "And as a professional lacrosse player, little kids playing lacrosse really look up to you and I think I am able to have an impact on them through lacrosse."

And now for the family with no history of military service, the Smith family has one member serving and a younger brother following in his footsteps.

"My brother Austin is now playing lacrosse at the Air Force Academy," Smith said. "He just finished his sophomore year there and is excited to blaze his own path in the Air Force."

When asked what he loved most about being a professional athlete, Smith was quick to answer.

"One of the greatest things about being a professional athlete is the opportunity to make a difference in your community and become involved with youth programs and develop young athlete's skills," he said.

During games at Gillette, stadium officials announce Smith as a member of the military and a graduate of the Air Force Academy.

"I get a lot of respect from kids in regards to what I am doing on the field, but also that I am in the military - it's pretty interesting to see the crowd and how they respond to a member of the military playing professional sports."

For those interested in seeing Smith play, the Boston Cannons will host a Military Appreciation Night on Sunday, May 17 at 6 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., against the Rochester Rattlers. Free tickets are available at the 66th Force Support Squadron Tickets and Tours Office in Building 1530.