What is your story?
I’ve had a career that consists of experience in senior levels of government, a presidential administration, strategic communications and public affairs, as well as multiple combat tours as a light attack/reconnaissance helicopter pilot and air mission commander where I led combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also wrote the best selling book Danger Close: My Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan a war memoir about close combat from a female Kiowa Warrior pilot’s perspective of fighting terrorists, flight training, and everyday life in the Army.
I recently served as the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Outreach) in public affairs at the Pentagon to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. I led strategic outreach; community relations; corporate, business, and stakeholder engagement; entertainment and film; partnerships; digital and social media. In this role, I led the creation and implementation of the DoD’s largest outreach initiative, This Is Your Military, while engaging American citizens and key defense-related organizations on critical national security matters, the roles of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the DoD’s community relations initiatives. Additionally, I have briefed the press corps at both the Department of Defense and Department of State.
In 2016, I served as the press secretary for caucus operations at the presidential convention as well as an advisor on the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs presidential transition team.
As a OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot-in-command and air mission commander in the historic 101st Airborne Division, I worked closely with the U.S. Infantry, NATO ground troops, Special Forces, Marines, as well as flew aerial security for Air Force One in 2008 for the President of the United States.
I frequently appear on national TV networks where I provide analysis on defense, national security, veterans affairs, and foreign policy issues. I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel across the country to speak to different audiences about my story, about perseverance and determination, overcoming adversity, lessons of leadership and communication, and achieving success under extreme pressure.
After I left the Pentagon, I returned to the private sector and started my own consulting business, Beacon Rock Strategies.
What message do you like to promote to others?
Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled! You never know where it might lead you. Too often people are hesitant to put themselves out there and do something different because of fear of failure or change, but taking that educated and responsible leap of faith just may be the difference between where you and are where you want to be. I always tell myself two things when it comes to business and personal growth: (1) you never know unless you try and (2) what’s the worst that can happen…someone may say no and then you adjust and try try again.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
I’m passionate about helping fellow veterans. I’ve worked with numerous veteran non-profit organizations that do tremendous work to give back to those who have served and sacrificed for our nation.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to?
Being afraid to fail! As a young woman I initially struggled with this common fear. I was constantly consumed by the “what if’s.” What if I don’t make it. What if I don’t get accepted? What if people think I can’t do it? Over time I learned that it’s not what others think about you, it’s about trying, failing, getting back up and doing it again. It builds character, confidence and motivates you to be the best version of yourself. Now I welcome the challenge! One of my favorite quotes is by President Theodore Roosevelt that I read whenever I need some extra motivation:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Did you have a Mentor, Coach or Sponsor along the way that was essential to your growth and success? If so, who was it and why?
It is and always has been my parents. I could not be where I am today without their guidance, experience, and willingness to listen. I have learned so much from them about decision making, critical thinking and effective communication…all essential skills for being successful in all aspects of life! They taught me that nothing is handed to you and that there is no substitute for hard work. If you want something, it is up to you to make it happen, no one is going to do it for you. Also, as a young girl on our farm in rural Washington state, they introduced me to aviation and sense of service, which led me to pursue becoming a pilot in the military after 9/11.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I love getting to speak with different audiences and businesses about how veterans are assets to society and how they can better connect with the veteran and military community.
If you could give one piece of advice for the women who are entering the workforce or launching their own business what would that be?
Prioritize your time. Time truly is your most valuable asset, so be deliberate about who you give it to. I wish I had learned this earlier in life!
Make sure to follow Amber Smith at the links below, and to buy her book Danger Close: My Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan available on Amazon!