UNDISCLOSED LOCATION --
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Hanna Smith is 22 years old and has seemingly already lived two distinct lives. The 332d Expeditionary Security Forces, Rapid Response Airman already shines among her peers, performing tasks not everyone can, like driving the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle or M-ATV.
Being a standout is nothing new to Smith. Her story goes back long before her Air Force service, to the tender age of 14 when she started throwing punches.
“Everyone in my family kind of had something they did, something they were good at. Then there was me,” says Smith. “I thought fighting would be really cool because nobody else in the family was doing that.”
Smith’s father happened to know a former boxer who worked as a coach. Soon, the idea of fighting turned into real training. Almost immediately, she was hooked. But most notably, she was good at it.
After training for four months in an abandoned middle school set up as a boxing gym and running on a farm trail where she had to dodge cows, Smith had her first fight.
“Four months is fast, but my coach thought I was ready.”
Her coach’s faith in her was quickly validated.
“I won my first fight by TKO and that was just gasoline on the fire. I couldn’t stop.”
Smith went on to win four Golden Gloves titles, three national championships and still holds the flyweight championship belt for the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio regions. Even with all that, monetizing her talent as a career was a challenge.
“I fought semi-professionally, but there’s really not as much money in women’s boxing as there would be if I switched over to Mixed Martial Arts.”
Not one to back down, Smith decided it was still a challenge she was willing to take on. Her parents, while supportive of her aspirations, also advised financial stability. A family friend, a retired Senior Master Sgt., suggested the military as an option and Hanna joined the Ohio Air National Guard.
“It’s perfect. It gives me the chance to do something that makes a difference and it leaves me enough freedom that I can go back to training and fighting when I’m ready. I would make the same choice over and over again. I am completely content with where I am right now.”
Out of the world of professional fighting, she entered the equally male dominated world of Security Forces. She doesn’t do as much punching in her day to day, but training as a boxer has still proven valuable.
“I see people who are bigger than me. I know a lot of these guys are stronger than me. Of course I notice, but I don’t let it affect how I operate. I work hard to make sure that I can keep up with anyone. I know I can hold my own. I know that I deserve to be here.”
While many who enter the U.S. Air Force do not know what career field they will end up in, Smith chose this path for herself.
“I love everything about this job. I love what I do every day. I was raised hunting and learning to shoot. I have never scored below expert any time I’ve had to test and that’s something I take a great deal of pride in.”
Smith now spends most days in a M-ATV, patrolling the outer rim of the installation, looking for anything outside that you wouldn’t want inside. It’s a big job with a large number of lives possibly depending on her quick thinking and intervention.
When she’s not in a highly armored vehicle, she still stands ready to defend the installation. But until that moment happens, she’s offering a perspective that people might not expect from someone dressed in body armor and carrying weapons.
“Sometimes I’m working at the gate. Every car that pulls up, I’ll tell a joke or ask a question. If they smile or they laugh when they drive off, now I know their day is just a little bit better.”
From Esther Blake to Jeannie Leavitt to Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass, women have been blazing their trail in the United States Air Force for 75 years. For young Airmen like Hanna Smith, the sky is still the limit on the new things they can accomplish.