HARTSVILLE, S.C. — Darlington County Sheriff’s Deputy James Smith served 12½ years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including nearly five years in a combat infantry unit and later in military law enforcement.

His service included a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment that took him to Helmand Province.

“Afghanistan is like no other place on earth,” the Darlington native said. “We were in Helmand Province. It was rough. It was hot, humid. We were surrounded by locals all the time. You were never sure which ones were the enemy and which ones were not. Some of them liked us, some didn’t. Some were insurgents. You just never knew. You had to constantly stay alert.”

But he said he found that wherever he went, people are people.

“There are good people over there,” Smith said. “There were families just trying to live. Some of them tried to help us. We never wanted to hurt someone trying to help us.”

Smith said he transitioned from the infantry to military law enforcement in 2009.

“I’ve always been passionate about law enforcement,” he said.

Smith entered the Marines after graduating from Darlington High School and served from September 2004 until March 2017. He said he left the Marines at the rank of staff sergeant after receiving a medical discharge for a back injury that required surgery. He said he would have preferred to stay in the Marines.

“I had no option,” he said. “I miss it every day.”

He joined the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office in 2017. Today, at age 33, Smith serves as the school resource officer (SRO) at Southside Early Childhood Center in Hartsville, where he has served since 2018.

“It was something I wanted to do,” he said.

A husband and father of two, an 11-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, Smith said he is pleased to be working in a role to keep children safe.

“It’s just being able to ensure the safety of the county’s little ones," he said. "They’re their parents’ most precious possession.”

And he takes his role personally, he said.

“I treat every one of these kids as if they were my own,” Smith said.

He said he wants parents to know their children are safe and secure.

Smith said he chose the Marines for one main reason.

“They’re the best of the best,” he said. “I wanted a high standard. I wanted to push myself. I knew the Marines would give me that.”

He said he is proud to be able to call himself “one of the few, the proud.”

His Marine Corps experience, he said, prepared him well for his current role as a law enforcement officer and for whatever lies ahead.

“It prepares you to think under pressure, to think logically, to stay calm, keep a cool head,” he said.

“Basic (training) breaks you down and builds you back up into a Marine,” Smith said. “It prepares you for life, strengthens your work ethic, teaches you responsibility.”

He said he recommends the Marine Corps for young people who are looking for some direction in their lives.

“Absolutely. My question is why not,” he said. “Why not go and serve your country?”

Smith said the Marines can give a young person not sure about what to do with his or her life the direction he or she may need.

“The possibilities are endless if you put your mind to it,” Smith said. “You get out of it what you put into it. Try it, you might just love it.”

Smith said Veterans Day should hold a special significance for all Americans.

“It’s a day of recognition for veterans past and present and those who continue to serve and what they do and what they’ve done to keep this great nation safe,” he said.

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