Army Sgt. 1st Class Dale “D.J.” Smith Jr. had only been in Afghanistan about a month when his unit came under attack Friday, and he was critically wounded.
Less than a week and several surgeries later, the 1999 Clovis High School graduate remains in critical condition at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., according to his sister-in-law Cassie Smith.
“The next four to five days are critical. He is responsive and they’re (medical personnel) handling that the best way they know how … We’re a pretty close-knit family and it was pretty devastating. No promises have been made (about his recovery), but we do receive encouragement, and we hold on to our faith,” she said.
“The family has a long bumpy road ahead. He’s had a few surgeries and those have gone well, but there will be extensive surgeries and rehab to follow.”
The Clovis native sustained a gunshot wound to the head when his group came under enemy fire, Cassie Smith said. She said she does not know the extent of injuries to other members of the unit.
Army officials confirmed Wednesday that Smith is assigned to Fort Carson Army base in Colorado.
According to a Wednesday press release from the Department of Defense, 40-year-old Staff Sgt. Lex Lewis of Rapid City, S.D., also assigned to Fort Carson, died Friday from injuries sustained in the attack.
Along with his wife Lindsey Smith, a Farwell native, and their two small children, Dale Smith Jr., 29, had recently been assigned to a unit in Colorado Springs, Colo., and deployed shortly after relocating in February.
Cassie Smith said the family was notified Friday of his injury, and his wife and parents Dale and Cindy Smith of Clovis flew to Maryland to be by his side, along with Cassie’s husband, Dale’s brother, Raymond Smith.
“This has been devastating to the family,” she said, asking that friends and family pray for Smith’s recovery.
A close couple and tight-knit family, Cassie Smith said Lindsey Smith spoke to her husband and high school sweetheart on the phone before receiving word he had been injured “just hours after talking to him and being reassured that he was all right.”
Family friends Travis Denton and Angie Taylor organized a vigil for Smith and his family, held Wednesday night at Central Baptist Church in Clovis. About 60 attended the vigil.
Taylor said the vigil was intended as an opportunity for friends, family and community members to offer “words of prayer to hold up the family and D.J. and hope that he gets well.”
“Just make sure that you thank a soldier some day … If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Cassie Smith said she stayed behind in Clovis to take care of things for the family and plans to fly to Maryland on Friday to join her family.
Smith said she plans to deliver cards or well-wishes from the community to the Smith family when she arrives in Maryland.