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Daren Smith

The Los Angeles Times listed it in stark terms, one of the now 3,893 members of the U.S. military killed in in the Iraq War:

Daren A. Smith, 19, of Helena, Mont.; private, Army. Smith died Thursday in Baghdad of wounds sustained from a noncombat-related incident. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) at Ft. Polk, La.

Daren was my student. I’ve been dreading news like this since the outbreak of the war, as a number of students I’ve taught have joined the military after high school and a number have served in Iraq. It’s hard to imagine anything happening to people so young and full of potential, but easy to dread losing them.

I think he had a difficult time in high school. He was a unique kid, one who would only answer to a nickname in my freshman English class, rather than his own name. School was never easy for Daren, not because he wasn’t bright or because he wasn’t motivated; he was just one of those kids who didn’t fit in too well in the often confining constraints of a high school.

He had a great sense of humor, though, and by the time he was a senior, he learned to put that to use. In my class, he and some classmates wrote and directed a movie that had us all laughing. Once you got through the shell that made Daren seem unapproachable at times, you found an interesting, sharp, unusual kid, exactly the kind that makes working in high schools worth it.

I happened to run into Daren a few days before he was going to ship out. He had changed. He was a lot more confident, looked me in the eye, and seemed ready to accept the challenge that was facing him. I didn’t know what to tell him, and awkwardly joked that he should “keep his head down and come back to tell me about his experiences.” I just didn’t know what else to say. When we shook hands, I just remember thinking that I hoped he’d be able to do that. Tonight, it’s slowly sinking in that he’ll never be able to talk about what he experienced and how it changed him.

I don’t know what Daren believed about the war. I don’t know what his politics were. I do know that he was a young man with a creative soul and a great deal of potential, and I mourn his loss.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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