Hope Unseen

The Story of the U.S. Army's First Blind Active-Duty Officer

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About The Book

The inspiring, unflinching true story of “blind” faith, as Major Scotty Smiley awakes in a hospital bed and realizes his world is permanently dark he must stretch his faith like never before. Courageous, heartfelt, and honest, Hope Unseen challenges readers to question their doubts, not their beliefs, and depend upon God no matter what.

A nervous glance from a man in a parked car. Muted instincts from a soldier on patrol. Violent destruction followed by total darkness. Two weeks later, Scotty Smiley woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, helpless . . . and blind.

Blindness became Scotty’s journey of supreme testing. As he lay helpless in the hospital, Captain Smiley resented the theft of his dreams—becoming a CEO, a Delta Force operator, or a four-star general.

With his wife Tiffany’s love and the support of his family and friends, Scotty was transformed—the injury only intensifying his indomitable spirit. Since the moment he jumped out of a hospital bed and forced his way through nurses and cords to take a simple shower, Captain Scotty Smiley has climbed Mount Rainier, won an ESPY as Best Outdoor Athlete, surfed, skydived, become a father, earned an MBA from Duke, taught leadership at West Point, commanded an army company, and won the MacArthur Leadership Award.

Scotty and Tiffany Smiley have lived out a faith so real that it will inspire you to question your own doubts, push you to serve something bigger than yourself, and encourage you to cling to a Hope Unseen.

Excerpt

HOPE UNSEEN CHAPTER 1
DEPENDENCE DAY

In any and every circumstance I have learned
the secret of being filled and going hungry,
both of having abundance and suffering need.


The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 4, verse 12)

No yellow snow!” was not a suggestion at Mount Rainier’s Camp Muir. The climbing guides issued it as an edict. “If you need to go, use the restroom over there—this snow doubles as a source of water at ten thousand feet. None of us wants to go redrinking yesterday’s grape Gatorade after it spends the night in your bladder.” Easy for them to say. “Over there” was no big deal when you could see. But for a blind guy? I might as well walk to Boise to take a pee; I had zero chance to make it two hundred meters. I had stuck a lot of unwanted things in my mouth during the last eight hundred or so days of darkness, so what was wrong with a tiny taste of lemon snow for a few people who could still see?

The decision quickly became a dilemma. I follow rules. But to pee properly I needed help. I had been superexcited when the guide told our group that we would be waking up at eleven in preparation for the climb to the summit. It was just 9 P.M. Fourteen hours of sleep? Simply awesome. It was smart to allow us rest before we ascended the final four-thousand-plus vertical feet to the fifth-highest point in the continental United States. But my joy was soon turned to frustration: the guide explained that we would be arising at 11 P.M. Two hours? I don’t mess around with sleep patterns—even if my life now exists in a perpetual nighttime.

By the time I decided that I could no longer hold it, the rest of the climbing team was knocked out. If I woke anyone up, I’d be robbing him of probably half his night’s rest. In a departure from my normal worldview, I became a utilitarian. The odds that someone would actually happen upon my urine were extremely low—the Mariners winning the World Series low. Compare those minuscule odds and their minimal impact with the guarantee someone would lose sleep if I shook him awake, and the answer became clear.

At just after 10 P.M., 10,100 feet above Enumclaw and Yakima and Fort Lewis—feet freezing and teeth chattering—I peed in the snow just a few steps behind the tent. Really, the dilemma was less about me stealing anyone’s sleep and more about how much I hate—how much I really despise—my childlike dependency on others. With more than two years of blindness under my belt, maybe I should have been used to it, but I wasn’t. Being helpless in certain circumstances never gets easy. The pain dulls a bit. But it’s a lifelong challenge.

It’s difficult to admit, because I like to think of myself as noncompetitive, but the truth is I want to be the best at every endeavor I undertake. Deep down I want to march the fastest, pin the quickest, shoot with the most deadly accuracy, marry the prettiest girl, and climb the highest mountains. That’s what happens when you grow up with three brothers and three sisters. You hone your quickness fighting for extra dessert. You build strength and awareness guarding your space in the car. My life growing up was a constant competition, and losing wasn’t any fun. So I grew up trying to be the best.

When Micah Clark, the founder of Camp Patriot, invited me on the Mount Rainier climb, I responded by asking him if he knew just exactly who (or what) he was talking to. “I can’t see, Micah.”

I can’t. I still trembled every time those words rolled off my tongue.

I can’t. I won’t testify with certainty, but I’m pretty sure I never even used those words before the injury. I had won a state football championship—as part of a team of undersized farm boys and wannabes, none of whom went on to play for a Division I school. I graduated from West Point with a decent grade point. I married my beautiful high school sweetheart. I completed Ranger School, and I set my sights on army Special Operations. I feel like I’m a pretty tough guy. I spent my first twenty-four years tackling life head-on with a pretense of invulnerability, pounding life’s obstacles into the turf and standing over them, satisfied, with mouth guard in hand. I can’t. Because I can’t see Micah.

“I know you can’t see, Scotty. But you can do it.”

Micah Clark dreamed up Camp Patriot while fly-fishing in Montana after a three-month stint as a security contractor in Afghanistan. The luxury of a month in solitude—with just his log cabin, his fly rod, and a stream—convinced him that he should do something more for those who had returned from war a little less whole than when they had departed. He believed that outdoor adventures would be therapeutic for wounded vets, so he took a two-hour trip through Non Profits for Dummies and launched a dream that continues to shift the paradigm for many of our nation’s most giving servants: I can still be me.

With Micah’s encouragement, I managed to get over “I can’t” and agreed to do the climb. Standard climbs up Rainier involve parking a van at about five thousand feet and then a day’s walk to double that elevation. There is no real technical climbing involved in the first portion of the journey—not even any snow until a few thousand feet up from the lot. The climactic moment of the first day came when another wounded vet and I crossed Pebble Creek. The creek crossing was nothing more than an exercise in staying dry for people with both eyes or both legs, but it proved a challenge for me. Michael Perry, a writer who joined us on the climb and later published an article in Backpacker magazine, described the dynamics: “When they complete the crossing, there are congratulations and smiles all around, but the cheerleading is contained. Everyone is working out the line between encouragement and patronization. The men simply crossed a small creek.”

Compared to all the ruck marches I had done as an infantryman, the climb to base camp had not been all that difficult. Foolishly, I announced that to the group, prompting a quick and unfriendly “Shut up, Scotty” from an exhausted fellow climber. “Why don’t you try it on one leg?” was his remark. In no way was I reveling in my partner’s struggles. To the contrary, I sheepishly apologized to him for my thoughtless comment. But the ease of the movement to base camp—forty-pound backpack and all—had emboldened me.

The next day, two hours into the ascent from Camp Muir, my confidence had vanished, and I was vehemently disagreeing with Micah. I was not sure if I could keep going. Micah Clark—as I remembered him from our years growing up in Pasco, Washington—was an attractive guy, a human rock with a stomach that looked like German hedgerows. When I was a summer lifeguard, he would come to the pool to work out; he was training to become a Navy SEAL.

I’d once been in pretty good shape myself, but Ranger School and my levels of peak fitness were distant memories. Being blind made physical training a struggle. I found it tough to run up hills or to ride a bike. I found the monotony of pounding the pavement without the benefit of passing scenery too much to bear. And so my lungs were not the same as they had once been.

In addition to my burning lungs, both of my calves were ablaze. I wanted to quit. I wanted an hour to hydrate. I was breathing like a chain smoker. I was mentally pummeled. I hoisted the cement pillars that were now my legs up the mountain one deliberate motion at a time. Every single step took Jedi-like concentration, tying my neck and shoulders in taut knots. I had no idea what each succeeding takeoff and landing of my foot would bring. Entertaining the notion that I might make it to the top, I considered the number of steps I still had to take. What was left? Thirty-five hundred feet? The equivalent of eight thousand more stairs? Except that climbing was entirely unlike walking up some steps and a lot more like navigating an angry, oscillating escalator—in the wrong direction and with pieces of metal ready to jab my ankles at any moment.

In my head, I scolded myself. Why did you agree to do this? Why did you say yes? How was I going to make it to the top—and then back down again? When we paused for a break, I called out for my escort: “Curtis, I’m not sure I can keep going.” I no longer believed I had any chance to summit the mountain.

“We’ll see how you feel on the next stop, Scotty.”

This guy’s not listening to me. I made myself a bit clearer: “Curtis, you don’t understand. I don’t think I can make it. You guys, um, you guys see these amazing views. You have some motivation to overcome the pain. Me, I don’t see anything. I can’t see anything. I don’t know how much longer I can go.”

Curtis handed me a Snickers, some M&M’s, and a Propel. “Here you go, Scotty. We’ll see how you’re doing at the next stop.”

I wasn’t sure how candy and flavored water were going to fix my fatigued body and my dwindling desire. In fact, I wasn’t sure what was going to get me back on my feet. I had been in this spot so many times in the last couple of years. When I woke up from the blast in Iraq and couldn’t see a thing, every single step became that much harder. It took determination to get out of bed and just take a shower. It took every ounce of me to learn how to send an e-mail. Daily, I had to make choices to continue on or to sit on the couch with my feet up and listen to the television. When I lost my sight, the linebacker who tackled life head-on—that guy was knocked down. If a blind person tackles life head-on, he runs into things: lampposts, doors, other people. There are lots of things I can’t do. But there were also lots of things I could still accomplish. I had surfed in Hawaii and skied in Vail. I was about to become a graduate student at Duke University. My life was not as easy as before. Many things were hard. I was learning how to dig deep and fight for things in a new way. And yet, as I sat there on Mount Rainier, I just didn’t think I could do this.



Two years prior to Rainier, and just three months after losing the use of both of my eyes while fighting the war on terror in Mosul, Iraq, I hit bottom with this battle to persevere. I was struggling to believe that God was still God. I know now that the God who loved me before the injury loved me just as much afterward. The God I hoped in but could not see was the same God I now hoped in despite being able to see nothing at all. But crumpled on a cement slab, in the vicinity of the V.A. Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, California, I no longer understood what God wanted from me.

What am I supposed to do with this life? Who am I?

Somewhere along the sidewalk that led to the door of the blind center, my stick had missed a mat. I knew the whole route by heart—had committed it to memory in just a week. Coming out of the gym, I felt around for a metal drainage grate. The grate was maybe twenty feet from the door, just an inch or two to the right of the five-foot-wide cement strip that kept me on course. The xylophone tinging of the grate told me to turn right. Another twenty feet took me to the first black mat—three feet long and five feet wide; the rubber marker told me to take another left. About thirty feet after that turn, I would cross a small driveway—a twenty-foot journey without the benefit of paralleling borders that required me to shoot my own straight arrow to the other side. It was my own personal game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Once across the driveway, I would use my stick to again find the sidewalk and resume the “easy” part of my travels.

As best I can remember, I connected all of those dots precisely. Crossing the driveway had the most dramatic impact on my nerves. Parking lots were a blind man’s outer space. No up, no down. No left, no right. Just an empty wasteland of concrete that could quickly induce massive disorientation.

Whenever I made it those twenty feet, I breathed a sigh of relief, and on that particular day, I specifically remember exhaling. So it must have been the final waypoint that I missed. My walking stick’s next encounter with a black mat meant I would turn right and proceed ten feet until I heard the sound of two automatic doors swinging open. But two minutes after crossing that driveway, I hadn’t hit a mat. The stretch to the mat was not really that far—thirty yards and maybe thirty seconds on a normal day. But two minutes? I figure I must have walked a football field. What was the stupid stick for if it couldn’t find the mat? I raged against the idea of what I must have looked like with that stick—a spectacle for sure. I was so angry with myself, with the situation, with my pathetic life that I stepped off the sidewalk in defiance. If I had learned one thing in the first week of mobility school, it was “Never leave the sidewalk.” Forget it. I can do this. I stepped into space and floated toward the moon.

What I didn’t know—because Tiffany was carefully picking her battles with me—was that the blue-and-white hockey helmet protecting my brain from a blow to the soft part of my head came with a rainbow-colored chinstrap. I was a triangle-headed man with a stick that shouted, I can’t see, and I wasn’t even aware that it was all made worse by a chinstrap that announced my support for Skittles, trips to Hawaii, or a San Francisco parade. I wouldn’t know until weeks later when my friend Adam Rivette visited. Tiffany stood across the room, waving her arms for Adam to be quiet, as Adam asked the obvious question. “Scotty, dude, what’s with the rainbow chinstrap?” After Tiffany’s sister Michelle hesitantly stuck her toe into the fray and confirmed that Adam wasn’t just messing with me, I ripped off the helmet and chucked it across the room.

I had never been to Palo Alto as a sighted person. I had certainly never been to the Blind Center. I had gone toe-to-toe with bullets and bad guys—really bad guys. I had led soldiers in combat. Children at West Point used to look up to me. But sweltering between the mid-July California sun and the radiating pavement—drifting listlessly in that lot—I grew desperate. The blackness, the warmth, and a growing dizziness induced a panic beyond any other that I had ever endured. Before lifting weights at the V.A.’s eighties-era gym, I had neglected to drink any water. I could feel my sweat glands drying up—searching my body in vain for moisture—as I wandered aimlessly, probing for something, anything, that might reestablish my bearings. It was dark. It seemed empty. I felt hopeless.

I fought to stay conscious. Like a bat, I hurled sound waves, shouting “hello” in multiple directions (or what I thought were multiple directions), attuning my ears to any potential echo. But it was well after five. The government workers had all gone home; their punctuality angered me as I clawed at the nothingness for something.

Probably another half an hour went by before I found a curb and its landing. The three-inch increase in elevation was enough to alleviate my fears of being mowed down by a sanitation truck or a spirited teenager fixated on the sounds of hip-hop. I stepped up onto the sidewalk, threw my horrible stick down, and burst into tears. I had lived through a car bomb, narrowly escaped the piercing death of hot bullets, and now I was going to die as a pathetic blind guy in a Silicon Valley parking lot?

As a junior at West Point, I had requested a special inscription on the inside of my class ring. The woman taking my order had looked up and asked me with a surprised smile who “Phil” was. I chuckled inside and then explained that Phil was not a person but a book of the Bible. Tucked up next to the skin on the fourth appendage of my right hand is a small reminder that reads Phil 4:13—a reference to the verse from Philippians “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I once believed I could do anything—so much so that I went out of my way to carve it into the ring I wear on my finger. But in the emptiness of that parking lot, I quickly understood that I could do almost nothing at all, and I wondered if God even wanted to help me. I goaded God to tell me how I was supposed to take care of my family if I couldn’t even walk back from the gym.

God, what do you want from me? Why am I here? How am I supposed to wake up every day and live like this?



“Scotty. Get up. Let’s go,” ordered Curtis in the most polite way possible. I propped up my body with my axe, tried to shake off the massive fatigue, and trudged on—step by step—up Mount Rainier. I was living out that choice again—the choice to keep going. I can do all things through Christ. …I had always wanted to climb this mountain, ever since I’d seen it as a kid while driving west toward Seattle from my home in the eastern part of Washington. The vantage of Rainier from Fort Lewis, where I had been stationed since leaving West Point, charmed me on every single one of the Pacific Northwest’s clear days. Whether from the living room of the corps commander’s home or from the drive-thru at Burger King, Mount Rainier was Fort Lewis’s Mona Lisa. There was no escaping its gaze. I had last looked upon Rainier the day I left for Iraq. I stood on the airfield and saluted the snowy peak before climbing on an airplane.

When I finally agreed to do the climb, I thought that maybe if I made it to the crest of that enormous snowcapped rock, I could be the best again—that someone ordering a Whopper Jr. and fries would look up and see me through their binoculars. I would wave back. “I’m blind, but I’m on top of Mount Rainier.” Those were nice thoughts—they kept my heart warm and my pride intact before the onset of my cramping legs and the melting of my mental fortitude. Now, though, hope was becoming a memory. Much of the climb was in the mind, and as I mentioned before, my brain had all but given up on the prospect of actually scaling the summit—probably about a Space Needle ago.

Nonetheless, I had eaten the Snickers, downed the M&M’s, and sucked in some Propel. Whether it was the peanuts and caramel or the prayer, somehow my strength returned. The cement around my legs cracked and crumbled to the ground. Unbelievably, my newfound energy carried me up the mountain for the next several hours. I listened to Curtis, followed his steps, and trusted he would not lead me astray. The trust reduced the tension that had hindered me to that point. While the climb remained tedious and painful, I began to believe again.

The point of no return came during the crossing of a narrow ice bridge. It was a truly perilous portion of the climb for a blind person. The fragile nature of the bridge restricted its use to only one passenger at a time. My inability to see actually helped me overcome my fear of heights. The sight of the two-thousand-foot crevasse waiting below surely would have paralyzed me on the near side of the frozen balance beam. But unable to process my fear visually, I looped myself onto the safety line and picked up the sound of Curtis’s confident voice. “Put one foot in front of the other, Scotty. One foot in front … careful … easy … one foot in front of the other. Step in your steps.” Climbers do not die on Rainier at the rate that Everest claims lives, but many of those who have perished scaling Washington State’s largest mountain reportedly surrendered to the claws of just such a crevasse.

I could tell by Curtis’s careful tone that we were in a dangerous spot. Earlier, Micah Clark had dropped his axe while moving along the ice bridge. It spiraled across the slick surface and clinked and clanked a few times before falling into the bowels of the mountain. The climbers in his group had steadied their ears to ascertain the sound of the axe hitting bottom. They never heard a thing.

“One foot in front of the other. That’s good, Scotty.”

Twelve hours after we had begun our final stretch of the journey, I placed my size eleven boots on the 14,410th foot of Mount Rainier. I turned and told a video camera: “I love you, Tiffany.” After the shout-out to my wife, I stood up straight and painted a mental picture of my surroundings. My heart swelled with confidence. I knew exactly where I stood. I’d looked up at the top of the mountain so many times before. At that moment, I was the biggest thing up there. I made it. I really did. I couldn’t see a thing. But Micah was right. I made it.

I was not the first blind person to climb Rainier—five people without sight did it together in 1981. There had probably been others in the twenty-six years since. Nor is Washington State’s highest peak the crowning achievement of sightless climbers. A blind Erik Weihenmayer summited Everest in 2001. Rainier is not even that big a mountain, but it felt like an unreachable peak at many moments during the climb. Somehow I had made the choice to keep going, and others had come alongside to make persevering possible. We are dependent on God and dependent on one another. I just couldn’t see it until I was blind. Sight notwithstanding, in some way, every day is dependence day.

I had other things to do that day. A month earlier, I had oddly been named the 2007 Army Times Soldier of the Year. Before I climbed Rainier—which I’d done now; I’d climbed all the way up it—my story had been one example of an entirely new way of imagining our wounded warriors. All kinds of soldiers just like me had shifted themselves from people to be pitied and thanked to servants who had more to give. So to represent others like me, I should have been en route to Washington, D.C., for the Soldier of the Year festivities. Tiffany, not all that happy about my sudden jones for sightless mountain climbing, nonetheless volunteered to stand in for me on the first day of events in D.C. I would arrive just in time for the actual ceremony.

Hearing a plane soar just above my head, I allowed myself to believe that maybe Tiffany, on her way to the nation’s capital holding baby Grady, looked down on me with pride from a window of that jet. I waved—just in case—and thanked her for everything she had done to get me to this point.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Hope Unseen includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Scotty Smiley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

Captain Scotty Smiley was a man who had it all—a beautiful wife, an unwavering faith in God, and a bright future ahead of him in the United States Army.  West Point, however, could not prepare him for April 6, 2005, when a suicide bomber set off a chain of events that left him blind for the rest of his life.

Scotty refused to let his blindness define him, and with a host of helpers including his wife Tiffany, his dog Ocean, and countless servicemen and women, he remained determined to serve his country. In 2007 he was named the Army Times Soldier of the Year. As the only blind active-duty officer, As the only blind active-duty officer, Scotty is now an executive officer at Gonzaga University’s ROTC program. Since losing his sight, he has surfed in Hawaii, climbed Mount Rainier, and graduated from the Duke University MBA program—he credits this all to his faith in God.

QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

1. The inscription that Scotty requested on his West Point class ring became a sort of motto for him throughout the book: Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” How might the significance of this verse differ for him, before and after coming back from Iraq? What does it mean to you?

2.  Reflect for a moment on the title of this book: Hope Unseen. What were some of the turning points in the book that enabled Scotty to see hope for himself in spite of his blindness? What part of this hope came from inside? What part came from other people and other sources?

3.  One of the unquestionable heroes of this book is Scotty’s wife Tiffany. Discuss how Tiffany’s role in Scotty’s life changed over time. How would you have responded in her situation? What would you have done differently?

4. Scotty’s relationship with Jeff Van Antwerp was important to him throughout the book. In what ways did Jeff help Scotty believe in himself so surely again? Why do you think Scotty’s success was so important to Jeff?

5.  Scotty and Tiffany’s trip to Hawaii seemed like a very important affirmation to them that they could continue to have some degree of normalcy in their lives. But what did you make of Scotty’s personal quest while in Hawaii to learn to surf? Was he endangering himself, or challenging himself? Did Tiffany have a right to be concerned?

6.  The death of Captain Bill Jacobsen was an event that left Scotty reeling, and had a ripple effect across the rest of the narrative. When Captain Van Antwerp replaces Jacobsen, he demands that the Golden Rule be followed: “There will be no revenge for Bill Jacobsen’s death, no wanton destruction” (p.46.) In what way do you think this event and the implementation of the Golden Rule shapes the way Scotty thinks about his blindness as he is coming to terms with it?

7.  Should Scotty ultimately forgive the terrorist for what happened, or would that be a sign of weakness? What role do forgiveness and redemption play in Hope Unseen?

8. In chapter 13, “For Worse,” we see Scotty beginning to question his faith and his relationship with Tiffany as a result of this. It culminates in Tiffany leaving his bedside for the first time at Walter Reed.  How might his relationship with Tiffany (and ultimately his life in general) turned out differently had he not rediscovered his faith?

9. Scotty insists on multiple occasions that he would never have had a chance to meet Coach K, get his MBA at Duke, or even return to West Point if it had not been for his blindness.  Is Scotty right or wrong? Why? Where might Scotty be if he wasn’t blind?

10. Scotty’s relationship with his son Grady at the end of the book is wonderfully heartwarming and fascinating.  How would you feel if you were never able to see your own child? What tidbits surprised you about his relationship with Grady?

11. What do you think the future has in store for Scotty?    

ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

1. In chapter 19, while venting some of his frustrations, Scotty says “I don’t want pity, but just close your eyes for an hour and sit in your living room. It gets boring pretty quick” (p.165.) While an hour may be a bit too much time to devote to this exercise, try and close your eyes for just five or ten minutes.Try to do some simple tasks that you would normally have no trouble doing. How did it feel?  

2. Has this book moved you? If you’d like to give back, why not make a donation to the American Center for the Blind at https://www.afb.org/cc_gift.asp. Scotty’s story is one of many remarkable successes achieved by people who have lost their eyesight. Learn more and make a small donation as a book club.  

3.  The story continues at the website maintained by Crandall and Smiley—www.HopeUnseen.com. Learn more about Scotty’s experiences teaching at West Point, and about the events and people featured in Hope Unseen
 
A CONVERSATION WITH SCOTTY SMILEY

One of the most touching moments of the book was when your then puppy, Ocean, brought you home in the middle of the night when you were lost on a walk. How is Ocean doing now, and how has she improved your quality of life?

Ocean is an amazing friend and has always been present, every time I needed a friend. Her love and companionship has been truly wonderful. The strength she brought me, when I was hurting and searching, gave me a purpose and was a guiding light. Waking up to take her to the bathroom, taking her for a walk (whether or not I knew where I was going), teaching her to sit, teach, or come gave me a reason to think about something else, instead of my own pity.  Part of my recovery process was to stop feeling sorry for myself and instead think about helping and assisting others in there trials in life, even if it means an amazing dog, Ocean.

She enjoys a wonderful life in Indiana with my and Tiffany’s friends Carl and Jamie Evans. They have four beautiful children that love to play and love on our friend, Ocean.

The book is nearly as much the story of your wife Tiffany as it is the story of you; she is such a wonderful woman. Do you think Tiffany has gotten the recognition she deserves for being an all-time-great Army wife? Do you think you could have been as strong a husband if the situation was reversed?

Tiffany is an amazing, beautiful woman who has loved me every step of our wonderful journey. She continues to guide me and assist me in every new adventure we have together.  

I would never know what life we would be living now, if the roles were reversed.  However, I do know that my love for my beautiful bride has never ceased or diminished.  Recovery for me was very difficult and challenging, as I am sure it is for everyone. It was Tiffany’s love, encouragement, and strength that pulled me out of my despair. It was this love that brought my eyes back to the Lord and assisted me in understanding that God has a purpose behind every challenging event in our lives. So, I just pray that I could have loved and cared for her half the amount that she has loved and cared for me.

What do you think is the most important lesson one can learn about leadership? Have you learned your most valuable lessons before or after blindness?

Leadership is a subject that we never stop learning about – it’s about us; who we are and how we treat others. I learned so much from my life growing up in my family, in college, and in the Army. Blindness has taught me that many times in life there are small things to worry about that may not make a bit of difference to my ultimate purpose in life. Instead, blindness has given me the ability to focus on assisting others, just as my wife, family and friends did for me.  So, with leadership, God has taught me if we are not living for Him, we have no true purpose that means anything for eternity.

What has your relationship with Mike Krzyzewski, coach of Duke and the USA Basketball team, meant for you personally? Were you an admirer of his before meeting him?

I have always looked up to amazing leaders like Coach K. I loved watching him coach team after team in the NCAA Championships with Duke. Meeting him brought that image – his emotions and personality – into real form.  It allowed me to see his leadership. He taught me how to communicate to others around me despite their age, race, or gender. He says it is about getting to know those who you are leading – they give you the ability (the privilege) to lead.  

He is a hero of mine. His leadership on and off the court is respectable and caring. I hope one day that I can be a great leader like Coach K.

(Note: the behind the Duke Team seats were amazing. Thanks, Coach K.)

Toward the end of the book you reflect on your son Grady, and what it was like meeting him without ever seeing him. How have you managed as a blind father? Are your kids old enough yet to understand your situation? What lessons do you think you are passing onto your children that you would not have done if you hadn’t lost your sight?

My children are the most amazing things my wife could have blessed me with. Their love and personalities brighten my day. They put a smile on my face, despite what mood I am in.  

I hope to teach them all that I have learned in life. But, I think most importantly, I must teach them about a personal relationship with God. I pray, read the Bible, and sing Christian songs to them every day. It is this love for God that I believe every person on Earth should want to pass to there children and others around them.  

My blindness, that God has blessed me with, teaches me about why we are here on Earth, to Love Him. To love God — that is what I desire and strive to teach my children..

You seem to be a true extreme sports enthusiast, having surfed, skied; mountain climbed, and even skydived since becoming blind! Do you have any athletic challenges that you are currently working toward achieving?

Strongest Man on Earth could be a challenge but my 195 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal may be a bit much. No, I cannot really think of anything I have desired to do that I have not done. As opportunities and challenges face me, I discuss with my wife what we think I should do, and then I jump on to the challenge.

How did the writing process work with your co-author Doug Crandall? Were there any frustrations in trying to get your story down on paper, or was it fairly easy to organize your thoughts and experiences and collaboratively transform them into a book?

Doug is an amazing man. His ability to transfer my story into writing is an amazing feat. I tell everyone that I do not like to talk, but I believe Doug will tell everyone otherwise. 

There were many difficult times replaying hard situations that my family has gone through, but I believe God opened up these opportunities for my recovery. Hearing them come out of my mouth and come from others was a helpful process in my recovery. 

Doug did the majority of the writing. First, we wanted it to be a third person narrative. In the end, we believed it would sound so much better coming from a first person narrative, from my voice. With this, we deleted a lot of “bragging” about me. I also wanted a lot of description so the reader could live the life I was living instead of just hearing a good story. Doug did an amazing job putting feeling, emotion, and description through out the entire story. Editing was difficult and tedious. Again, Doug took the charge and poured through each sentence, if not word, stroking the story and giving it one voice. I also wanted each character to be described as accurately as possible.  “Possible” meant my version, as jaded as it may be, but true to the experiences that I had with them. I never wanted a family, friend, or loved one to look lesser than what they are in life. In the end, when it was done, I told Doug that I wanted to meet the main character, because he sounded like a stud.

Now that you have added author to your list of accomplishments, do you have any plans to collaborate on another book? Is there any other subject that you’d like to tackle next?

Well, I will leave the writing up to Doug.  I am not sure if any more crazy things will happen in my life but I know that Tiffany has an amazing story she would love to tell. Doug is a phenomenal gentleman.  His love and consideration for my family and friends mean the world to me. The joy he has brought to our lives will never be forgotten. Thank you Doug. 

About The Author

Photograph © Amanda Miller

Captain Scotty Smiley is the Army’s only active-duty blind officer. He lost the use of both eyes when a car bomber blew himself up in front of Scotty’s vehicle. A recipient of the bronze star and Purple Heart, he currently teaches the core course in leadership at West Point. Scotty and his wife Tiffany are the proud parents of two young children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (November 2012)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451672916

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