Thursday, January 23, 2003

He studies war

Col. Dean Smittle briefs radio listeners about strategic planning, weapons and mayhem

By John Johnston / The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Retired Col. Dean Smittle uses maps to help keep track of world events.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
On a snowy Thursday at 1900 hours - that's 7 p.m. to nonmilitary types - 15 people assemble at the public library's Madeira branch. They're about to be briefed about war.

They take their seats as a 68-year-old man in an olive-brown jacket and white turtleneck steps to the front of the room. He wears glasses and a hearing aid. His reddish hair, short and straight, is a few shades darker than his eyebrows and mustache.

If the face isn't familiar, the voice of retired Air Force Col. Dean Smittle is immediately recognizable to regular listeners of Jim Scott's morning show on WLW-AM (700). Since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he has served as the station's military analyst, offering "briefings," as he calls them, that now are heard at 7:55 a.m. each weekday. For a time he also provided on-air analysis for WXIX-TV (Channel 19).

The Delhi Township resident does these stints without pay, other than on-air plugs for his "Thumbs Up America" lecture series, which includes this Madeira appearance. He sees the work as an important public service.

"There are a lot of fine people out there, young men and women, in harm's way," he tells the library audience, which includes several veterans. "They're doing a fine job. We've got to keep this image in front of the public eye."

The Adams County native was once a young soldier. He knows how it feels to be unappreciated.

"When I came back from Vietnam (in 1968), 24 hours out of the combat zone, I stepped out of the gate at Travis Air Force Base, California. There was a mob of anti-war demonstrators. I was spat upon and cursed. What a shock....

"I don't want to see that kind of thing repeated for our soldiers (of) today."

Col. Dean Smittle will present his free "Thumbs Up America" lecture and slide show at these Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County locations:
• 7 p.m. Feb. 4, Green Township branch, 6525 Bridgetown Road. Call to register. 369-6095.
• 7 p.m. Feb. 17, Harrison branch, 10398 New Haven Road. 369-4442.
• 2:30 p.m. March 9, Main Public Library, 800 Vine St., downtown. Huenefeld Tower Room, third floor. 369-6934.
Every major broadcast outlet has a military analyst or three - or more. Here are some of the top guns:
ABC: Tony Cordesman, military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies; retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, former supreme allied commander, Europe.
CBS: Retired Army Col. Mitch Mitchell; former U.N. weapons inspectors Tim McCarthy and Steve Black.
CNN: Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander, Europe; retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Shepperd; retired Army Gen. David Grange.
NBC: Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, allied commander during the Gulf War; retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey; retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing; David Kay, former U.N. weapons inspector; Richard Butler, former chief U.N. weapons inspector.
FOX: Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North; retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, retired Army Col. David Hunt.
Then with one hand shoved into his pants pocket and the other wielding a laser pointer, he launches into his 45-minute slide show, a wide-ranging presentation that touches on wars (World War I and II, Vietnam, Afghanistan), equipment (from World War I Sopwith Camels to the B-2 stealth bomber), and soldiers (including Delta Force, "the best of the best").

His lectures, like his radio briefings, change often to reflect the news of the day. He scans newspapers and news magazines, pores over specialty publications such as Defense News and Foreign Affairs and surfs the Internet looking for nuggets of information TV viewers would miss.

He has help. His wife of almost 30 years, Claire, is a library assistant in the rare books department of the Main Public Library, downtown. "We're kind of a dynamic duo," Col. Smittle says. "I say, `We need this,' and she knows where to get it." She also runs the slide projector during his public talks.

What's more, she offers a layperson's perspective. During one talk, she heard her husband describing a "Daisy Cutter" bomb. At 15,000 pounds, it's the most powerful nonnuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, able to incinerate anything within 600 yards.

Mrs. Smittle asked how much it costs. The colonel didn't know. So he called a contact in logistics command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he once was assigned. Price tag: $24,318.24, each.

"I've been involved in fighter command, logistics command, air transportation command and communications command," Col. Smittle says. "Each one of those stops, I picked up not only contacts, but fairly broad knowledge. So I know where to look or who to call (for information). If it's not classified, they'll tell me."

Started in Air Force

A military career wasn't always in his plans. After his 1952 graduation from Batavia High School, he attended Ohio State for a year and a half, until working two jobs and going to school full time proved too much. He joined the Air Force, which sent him to England as an engineering draftsman. Upon his return, he earned bachelor's degrees in fine arts and education and, later, a master's in education from the University of Cincinnati.

Too old to join Air Force ROTC while at UC, he opted for the Army's program. After graduation the Army sent him to Germany, where he provided briefings for the commanding general. That led to a yearlong Pentagon assignment in 1966. About every two weeks he helped edit filmed combat footage from Vietnam, added narrative, and took the finished product to the White House to brief President Lyndon Johnson.

"He was quite an imposing character," Col. Smittle says with a chuckle. "You could feel this power and this Texas personality coming out. He liked to use cuss words. Very nice fellow, though."

As the war ramped up in 1967, Dean Smittle arrived in Vietnam as a signal officer. His mission: train the South Vietnamese and establish communications sites for Special Forces units.

He was an Army captain assigned to the 52nd Combat Signal Battalion when the enemy launched the Tet Offensive in early 1968. His sandstone headquarters building took seven or eight direct hits from Viet Cong mortars. As the blasts knocked out chunks of walls, he suffered a concussion and a ruptured eardrum. Since then, he says, his hearing has gradually worsened. "So I go to the VA, and they give me a hearing aid."

A month after his discharge from the Army in 1970, he rejoined the Air Force. He had dreams of earning pilot's wings, but his eyes weren't good enough. Still, he's had an eventful career that included an assignment to Saudi Arabia in 1985. Ironically, the United States was assisting Iraq in its war against Iran.

He was promoted to full colonel in 1988. He retired in 1994 and has devoted much of his free time to painting. He works with acrylics, and focuses on aircraft, war scenes and mythology.

Even before 9-11, he had teamed with his mentor, Robert Fabe, a professor emeritus at UC, to do the "Thumbs Up America" lectures. (The professor no longer lectures because of his health.) Col. Smittle receives an honorarium for his talks, deducts expenses, then donates the rest to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation ( , which provides scholarships to children of Special Operations personnel killed in the line of duty.

When WLW went looking for a military analyst, the American Legion suggested Col. Smittle.

"We didn't want somebody who was just going to drone on and use military lingo," says Darryl Parks, director of AM operations for Clear Channel in Cincinnati. "We wanted somebody with a common-guy approach."

For example, the retired colonel will describe the $2.1 billion B-2 stealth bomber as a technological marvel, but will note that a couple of key components are missing from the jet: "The guys left out a bed and a toilet."

Radio listeners also know that the colonel, who has two adult daughters, is no dove. He often uses phrases such as "we're getting ready to go over there (to Iraq) and zap 'em."

Saddam has to go

He's convinced that "the only way we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is go take him out. He's going to go out feet first, screaming. I support the effort to do that."

If it happens, even if it doesn't, Col. Smittle will be on the radio, offering his insights.

"We were at a party some months ago," Mrs. Smittle says, "and one of the guests asked where Dean does his broadcast. He had envisioned him in some military bunker, surrounded by computers, with aides rushing bulletins to him.

"We hated to disappoint him, but we said Dean does it on the sofa, usually in his bathrobe, surrounded by his two cats. The (guest) looked rather crestfallen."


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