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Col. Sarah Smith of Edwardsville, the State Judge Advocate of the Illinois Army National Guard, has been selected as one of four nationwide recipients of the 2022 Federally Employed Women (FEW) Military Meritorious Award.
“I am unbelievably honored to be selected for such a prestigious military award,” Smith said. “Balancing my civilian career and my military obligations along with raising a family does not go without its challenges. While there are times when I feel stretched beyond capacity, when I go to drill and serve with the amazing Soldiers in the Illinois Army National Guard, and I am able to mentor and train strong young women who I hope to one day pass the torch to, all of the struggles pale in comparison to those experiences.”
As the State Judge Advocate of the Illinois Army National Guard, Smith is the highest-ranking legal officer and advises general officers and other senior level commanders on all military legal matters. In her civilian capacity, she is a Circuit Judge in the Third Judicial Circuit, Madison County, Illinois.
FEW is a nonprofit created in 1968 to advocate for equity and diversity for women and works towards advancing women in government with cutting-edge training, nationwide networking and invaluable insight. It assists more than a million women in the military and civilian workforce become strategic leaders within its four-pillar program: training, legislation, diversity and compliance.
The FEW recognizes select military women with its annual Military Meritorious Service Award. Award recipients have distinguished themselves with significant contributions to their service and their nation by promoting the tenets of civil/human rights, equal opportunity and public service; contributing to the equal opportunity for selection, promotion or retention of women and minorities in senior grade level positions; and assisting in overcoming and eliminating barriers that hinder equal opportunity for all members of the armed forces.
“Colonel Smith is an outstanding officer who has played an important role in addressing difficult issues within the military and the Illinois National Guard. The Federally Employed Women recognized the same outstanding leadership in her as we’ve seen for many years,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “Colonel Smith is a dedicated officer that goes above and beyond. She is an excellent role model for women in the military and has a heart for serving her community the same way she has served her country for the past 28 years.”
Smith mobilized for the first time in 2005 in support of Hurricane Katrina. Her overseas experience includes service as the Chief of Operational and Administrative Law for the 35th Infantry Division in Kosovo and as Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where she was awarded the Bronze Star. Because of her vast military legal experience, Smith has spoken at numerous key senior level engagements to include the Warsaw Ministry of Defense Legal Symposium, Warsaw Poland in 2011 and 2016, and at the United Nations Peace Symposium, New York, New York in 2011.
FEW honored Smith for her work during her deployment to Afghanistan, where she was selected to mentor the only female general officer in the Afghan National Army and work directly with the Afghan Minister of Education and the Minister of Women’s Affairs. She was also recognized for speaking at the United Nations symposium on two different occasions regarding her experience with women’s issues in Afghanistan. In addition, Smith presided over the civil law division and Madison County’s Veterans Treatment Court and co-established the Domestic Violence Accountability Court and the Child Support Accountability Court.
Among her other achievements, Smith worked with the Governor’s Office and legislators on the language of the proposed changes to Senate Bill 257, legislation to strengthen the state’s response to military sexual violence. The proposed change to state law was identified by the Governor’s Office and Smith presented the changes to the working group within the Illinois National Guard.