Regimental Commander Fights for the Vulnerable
LEXINGTON, Va., Feb. 2, 2023—Blake Smith ’23, an economics and business major and this year’s regimental commander, has a moving story behind his success. He did not achieve the highest-ranking position a cadet can earn without inspiration, and that inspiration comes from his sister Ashley, who is severely mentally and physically disabled.
Smith, who is just one year older than Ashley, watched his entire life as his parents continuously struggled to care for his sister. As a child, he wrestled with the difficult family dynamics, and was often frustrated and acted out because his parents were focusing on his sister. During his sophomore year of high school, he transferred to Benedictine College Preparatory in Richmond, Virginia. “When I first arrived, my football coach pulled me aside and warned me that I was in for a challenge at Benedictine, and it would take a lot of work to succeed as a student and athlete,” reminisced Smith.
Smith matured in the new school, and excelled both academically and athletically. He learned resilience and hard work, and with Ashley to inspire him, he developed a desire to fight for others who cannot fight for themselves. “It was her disabilities that gave me, and continues to give me, an understanding of my God-given abilities and inspire me. The biggest influence in my life is my relationship with God. I owe all my success to Him. I work as hard as I can and leave the rest to Him,” he said.
When looking for a college, Smith wanted a school that matched his moral belief of service over self, always thinking of his sister. “I found what I was looking for at VMI, whose philosophical model is to train cadets to selflessly serve as citizen-soldiers. There are great people here at VMI,” said Smith.
Smith explained how his leadership and service training developed at VMI. “It starts with the Rat Line. We were all on an equal level, and we all looked the same. The rat physical training mentality is crawl - walk - run - sprint. Most rats fail the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) in the beginning. VMI has a ‘no rat left behind’ approach. Rats are taught the proper physical fitness technique to pass the APFT, and maintain a healthy routine for life. Being on the Rat Line is a hard process, but we wanted to go through it, and we established a brother rat experience. Then for the next three and a half years, the process molds us into cadets, and our character is developed. A bond is formed between brother rats. We will be brothers and sisters for life,” he said.
He decided to run for regimental commander because, as a 3rd Class cadet, he noticed many of his brother rats had lost their excitement and zeal for VMI because of the COVID-19 restrictions and investigations upsetting routine Institute life. “I love and value VMI and wanted to help my brother rats get back their vision and enthusiasm, and I wanted to give back to the school that has given me so much. My main goal as regimental commander is to enable all cadets to have the opportunity to be successful at VMI in all aspects of cadet life.” Smith went on to say he has been fortunate to have dealt with multiple groups and organizations within the Corps of Cadets, and he is motivated by his daily interaction with them. “We have had much success this year. So many people have been doing a good job. The whole Corps is upholding the Institute standards and providing a safe and professional Rat Line,” he said.
Smith is disheartened when he hears unfounded critiques that VMI is not living up to its reputation of high standards. “Just ask the cadets. They love it here, and they’ll tell you what’s going on. I feel truly blessed to be here. At VMI, you stop thinking about yourself, you think of your brother rats, your class, your team. VMI cadets adhere to honor and leadership skills. We are destined to do monumental things,” Smith said.
In November, 21 cadets, led by Smith, visited their shared alma mater, Benedictine College Preparatory, to host and judge the school’s annual individual drill competition. Reese DeVries ’24, who teaches drill as Company E master sergeant, was one of four cadets who judged the rifle drill, of which there were three rounds. “The final round was between the top five contenders. We looked for overall proficiency in stationary rifle movements, and basic knowledge of what movements can be carried out from certain positions. The standards became stricter with each round, and in the final round, ranking the challengers came down to minute details,” explained DeVries. The event displayed the historic relationship between VMI and BCP, which sends more students to VMI than any other high school in the country.
After graduating, Smith will commission into the United States Marine Corps as a 2nd lieutenant, but also recommends VMI for those who choose not to enter the military. “Cadets who do not commission will go into civilian life and will live by the same morals, honor, dignity, respect, and character for success. At a recent job fair on post, there were many civilian companies desperately competing to attract cadets to come work for them. There is no better person to fill a role than a VMI cadet. The diploma we receive at graduation has great value. I look forward to seeing the success of my brother rats 20 years from now,” he stated.
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