North Carolina Youth Gets Special Pentagon Visit

A North Carolina teenager and his family paid a special visit to the Pentagon today and met several Defense Department leaders.

At the invitation of Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 16-year-old Cooper Smith met with Defense Secretary James N. Mattis; Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and senior enlisted leaderrs from all branches of the military.

Smith lives with neurofibromatosis type 1, a multisystem genetic disorder characterized by changes in skin coloring and the growth of tumors along nerves in the skin, brain and other parts of the body.

“The people I met were fantastic and seemed to really care about the country,” Smith said. “I wanted to see how the Pentagon works and see how each single factor plays into each other. I thought things would be more independent, but I saw how each [service branch] relies on each other.”

Admiration for Service Members

His admiration for the military comes from his recognition of the service and sacrifice of the nation’s men and women in uniform, he said.

Though he cannot serve as a military member, Smith said, he feels it is his civic duty to make his community a better place. He volunteers at several organizations in North Carolina, including the Ronald McDonald House and Brenner’s Children’s Hospital, and he initiated a project that secures used books, toys, and games for a school in near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with a high percentage of students from low-income families. He donated bags of books and games to begin the initiative, and so far, the project has accumulated several truckloads of donations to help the school.

Smith’s family said they feel obligated to give back to community members in need, as they have received a tremendous amount of help in getting through difficult times and allowing Cooper to experience great moments.

His mother, Cindy Smith, is an Army veteran. She said her family gained a new appreciation for what the Defense Department does.

“We had such a limited idea of the sheer enormity of the decisions that are made every day that impact our entire country,” she said. “We appreciate and respect what people do here. It has been unbelievable.”