Hired Gun: From Lakewood to Baghdad, the Evolution of Stony Smith

My latest profile piece follows a Lakewood resident’s journey from his comfortable finance career in Northeast Ohio to security detail in the middle of Iraq (and at the height of the Iraq War, no less). I recorded somewhere around eight hours of conversation with Stony Smith, and we spent another several hours at a local shooting range. He showed me the basics, and I did pretty well (it was my first time ever shooting a gun, which was a fairly cool aspect to my reporting).

At its heart, the story gets into the importance of spending one’s time on this planet doing things that bring joy and exhilaration.

An excerpt:

The rocket smashes into the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad at some 200 meters per second — KA-WHAM! — and Stony Smith drops to the floor. He sharpens his senses and waits for more fire. These things usually come in threes.

Insurgents have been hammering the whole goddam Green Zone for months. But now, on Jan. 29, 2005, just days prior to a major national election, it’s the first time any round from the constant bombardment outside the embassy’s walls hit its mark. Stony doesn’t hear any more rockets heading his way. Nearby, two Americans lay dying. The warhead burrows deep into this imposing former palace of Saddam Hussein, but it never goes off.

Within seconds, Stony is up and running into the next room to secure his client, and this guy is leaning back in his chair, phone cocked in the crook of his shoulder, chatting away and suddenly looking up at Stony, like, “What’s the matter?” The rocket! The smoke! Didn’t you hear? A gray cloud is slowly wending through the hallways, fine and hazy. Debris rains down around the room. Stony has this determined look in his eyes and urges the man out of the office.

Here’s the thing: Stony Smith doesn’t fuck around. He doesn’t cut corners. And he certainly doesn’t tolerate anything less than achieving the stated objectives, especially as the threat of imminent death stinks up the room. The sole mission is to protect this guy, this director of a major reconstruction office in central Iraq who’s now grabbing his bullet-proof gear off a nearby coat rack with all due holy-shit haste.


Stony Smith, photo by Emanuel Wallace
Stony Smith, photo by Emanuel Wallace



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