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Lawyer helps families of fallen soldiers create lasting legacies

May 20, 2015
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memorial-facts1As Memorial Day approaches, plans are underway for a September golf outing to honor Hoosier Marine Brandon Barrett, who was killed in action in Afghanistan five years ago. The money raised will create a scholarship to help keep the fallen serviceman’s legacy alive.

Indianapolis attorney and Marine Corps veteran Ed Smid has made it his mission to see that Barrett, of Marion, and others who died in Afghanistan and Iraq are remembered and honored. In doing so, he’s also strengthened bonds among families of the fallen and provided valuable aid to survivors. Smid is co-chair of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation of Indianapolis, whose golf tournament in September will establish the Brandon Barrett Memorial Scholarship.

“My job field in the Marine Corps was as an infantry officer,” said Smid, who commanded units during two deployments to Iraq in 2004 and 2005 that encountered some of the fiercest fighting of the war in Fallujah and Ramadi. “Being in a position of great responsibility like that, in many ways it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done, and in many ways it’s the worst thing I did. … Unfortunately, not all the Marines came home.

“It’s a part of my history I can never forget and would never want to, so working with these families of these Marines killed in Afghanistan and Iraq helps me stay connected to that part of my history,” he said. “I do my best to honor these Marines.”

Smid’s best has been exemplary, those connected to the event say.

“Quite frankly, this local organization would not exist without Major Smid’s leadership,” said Smid’s co-chair, Noblesville Police officer Tyler Mensch. “He’s been instrumental in growing the tournament from a net $18,000-$20,000 to a net $100,000 tournament.”

Smid, an associate in Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s litigation practice, put his personal and professional networks to work, drumming up participation and sponsorship, Mensch said. “He’s got a never-quit attitude which I believe comes from the Marine side of his personality.”

But Mensch said Smid also made the golf outings deeply personal: Families of recipients help plan the outings, along with families of past honorees.

“That’s turned into really the neatest part of our event,” said Mensch, himself a Marine Corps veteran. “It’s been a true joy and a rewarding experience to be able to work with those families, not only the first year they’re involved, but when they stay involved and become part of this committee.”

Kevin Rankel is one of those family members. His son, Sgt. John Rankel, was killed in action in Afghanistan and honored with a scholarship in his name in 2011. The senior Rankel has helped other families plan events in theirs sons’ names ever since.

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“If (John) were here today, he’d say it’s not about me, it’s about serving the guy on my left and the guy on my right,” Rankel said. “We’ve met some great families that went through the same thing we did. That’s what we’re all about, and we’ve become a larger family in the five years I’ve been involved.

“We’re in a club no one wants to be a part of, and there’s a bit of a bond there.”

Even so, Rankel initially took some convincing to be part of the tournament. Smid delivered, he said.

“I remember the first time I met him, he showed up and talked about us getting involved. He’s been very forthright; he’s been a man of his word. I’ve seen him in action in terms of going after corporate sponsors and parlaying our mission,” Rankel said. “He’s very passionate about it and very articulate about it.”

Ice Miller LLP partner Robert Gauss, also a Marine Corps veteran, has been a sponsor of the program for years. The scholarships benefit either Marine Corps or Navy families, he said, and they can be a great help for service families that often rely on modest incomes.
 

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After some 14 years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, many military families are dealing with physical and emotional hardships as well as financial challenges. “Whatever we can do to support those families, I think it’s important,” Gauss said.

Zoie Babb, a rising senior at the University of Evansville, has been the recipient of the Sgt. John Rankel Memorial Scholarship for each of the first three years of her undergraduate study. “I’ve been greatly honored in receiving the support of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and the Rankel family,” she said.

Babb’s father, Marine Corps Sgt. Brock Babb of Evansville, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. After enlisting to fight in Operation Desert Storm in 1990, he’d left the service before re-enlisting many years later to train young Marines. He died at age 40 and had served alongside Mensch.

Babb said the scholarship in Rankel’s name covers about a quarter of her yearly tuition, and she feels blessed that other scholarships and aid from the GI Bill fully pay for her college education. She’s pursing studies in animal behavior and a path toward a career in wildlife conservation.

“It’s given me great support for my educational career. I’ve been able to save up money and look for experiences outside of school that are going to help in applying for grad school,” she said. In a sense, it’s meant the world: Babb has been able to spend summers in Africa and Ecuador getting hands-on experience working in animal rehabilitation, and she hopes to return to Africa this summer.

Barnes & Thornburg partner Kirk Grable said he and Smid formed a natural kinship as Marine Corps veterans do at the firm, which has been the event’s lead sponsor for several years. Grable said the event differs from other charitable efforts in that donors often are those who thank the recipients.

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“People who attend are moved by the events that take place there,” Grable said. Family members “are terribly moved that people are truly, truly honoring them.”

“I get the sense that the donors, once they participate in it, this is something that’s now on their to-do list every year,” Grable added.•

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