The family of Army Sgt. 1st Class Dale Smith always knew he'd never be the same after his tour in Afghanistan quickly came to an end with a gunshot wound.
But some things are getting back to normal for Smith and his family after a long road to recovery from a shot to the head that may have taken his sight, but only hardened his resolve to fight and his family's resolve to know that things could always be worse.
"We don't care if he's blind," sister-in-law Cassie Smith said. "He's our family. It's a little bit of an adjustment, but nothing we can't get through."
The Clovis native was awarded a Purple Heart shortly after he was wounded in a July 15, 2011, attack, and on May 26 received the Bronze Star for Valor during a homecoming ceremony at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo. In attendance were his wife Lindsey, daughter Cadence and son Sage; parents Dale Sr. and Cindy Smith; and brother Raymond Smith, with wife Cassie.
"I'm not sure if there was a dry eye in the gymnasium when Cadence was lifted up by an army officer so she could re-pin his Purple Heart as he stood tall and strong amongst the troops," Cassie said. "I know our family was deeply moved by the ceremony in its entirety."
Smith was originally awarded the Purple Heart last July by Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division. He was then in a coma at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., so Cadence accepted the medal and promised to award it when her father's condition improved.
"It means a lot that they gave me that Purple Heart," Dale Smith told KRDO after the ceremony, and noted happiness that other soldiers got to come home as well.
Now a resident of Tampa, Fla., Dale — also known as "D.J." — has experienced that improvement. He is coming off around half-a-dozen surgeries and months of rehabilitation. In the early days, Dale was only able to manage a few foot shuffles and maybe an, "I love you," but Cassie said he's since made huge gains.
"He is exactly like he was pre-injury," Cassie said. "He makes jokes, he remembers all sorts of things that happened in his childhood."
His long-term memory has started to come back, as he remembers details from Raymond and Cassie's wedding, and the children are adjusting to his condition like it's second nature — Cadence makes sure to tell her dad if she's on his left or his right whenever she's in the room.