Celebrating the man who became a hero

Celebrating the man who became a hero saving lives; our hero took a bullet (not a knee).
By George Beck, Joel Gordon, Joseph Uliano and Eddie Vega

The folks at GQ Magazine think otherwise, preferring to celebrate a millionaire athlete whose purpose is shortsighted, self-serving, and ripe with facts that don’t add up, and square-pegged narratives forced into round holes. Their hero didn’t risk greatly. Instead, he turned a false narrative into an attempt to make himself something greater than a star athlete—he sought to become a popular culture icon, and GQ perhaps gave him a much-needed lift at a time when he sorely needed, when fans and others rightfully moved on. But that’s where his story ends.

Here’s where the real story begins.

Jonathan Smith and his family drove nearly five hours from Orange County, California to Las Vegas for a festive weekend celebration of an older brother, Louis Rust’s birthday. Attending the Harvest Country Music festival was a potential tradition in the making, since Louis had attended in the past and this time sought to bring along additional family members including three nieces to share in the enjoyment of country music, excitement and energy in the Sin City. This year, Jason Aldean was headlining and the Smith’s had gotten seats close to the stage for Aldean’s prime-time performance. In the moments that followed, Smith, 30, an aspiring police officer and copy machine repairman, would turn into a national hero worthy of much praise—if of course he lived to see it.

Thanks to vacationing off-duty San Diego Police Officer Tommy McGrath, Smith would do so. McGrath, 26 was equally excited to be attending the same concert with family and friends when gunshots rang out.

Smith rescued over 30 concertgoers while many bedded down, or ran the other way. It was extreme chaos, and fear. Running the other way is natural response to the grave danger in one’s path. It’s part of the human condition that seeks to survive. And then there are those who commit extraordinary acts of heroism, those who take great risks to help others. Smith is among these heroes. His instinct to save the lives nearly cost him his when a bullet from a lunatic’s rage drove him to the pavement.

Smith lay on the ground mortally wounded, the bullet lodged in the separation between his neck and shoulder, bleeding profusely. He had seconds to survive. His guardian angel arrived. Enter Officer McGrath who stood over him and assessed his situation. Stop the bleeding, McGrath sought. Pack the wound and get him to a hospital as fast as possible, where McGrath admits he thought Smith would likely be pronounced dead.

Like most veteran officers, McGrath would say it was nothing more than, “Brother Helping Brother!” Smith cannot disagree with that, as he now refers to McGrath as his brother, recalling McGrath saying, “I will not leave you behind.”Smith’s unwavering commitment to those in need created a bond that will never be forgotten by the lives he touched. A bond that is equivalent to that of a family; however, this sense of family was not created by marriage or blood, but rather out of the love form mankind and making right when everything around seemed so wrong. This bond doesn’t see race, nor religion, or creed. It is sees humans for humans. Heart beat for heart beat.

Smith’s and McGrath’s newly formed relationship goes far deeper than one can ever image. It is a bond that can only be compared to comrades sharing a foxhole, as two individuals become one to lift the paralytic fear from each other, which can only be observed when courage is under fire. Smith’s innate desire to survive ignited a fire of instinct and heroism that can only be shared with individuals who share the same traits, which is what really brought Smith and McGrath together, a bond that can only be described as a “Warrior’s Bond.”

The connection between Smith and McGrath serves to articulate what “Brotherhood” truly stands for as their surface shows no commonalities between each other, but when we look beneath the surface we see to men fueled by the desire to give life when so many out there are willing to take it. When awarding McGrath for his actions, the critics will say, “It’s his job.” To some degree this callous and unemotional remark holds some truth, but those who stand behind the line, have a difference of opinion, as they know all too well that his actions go above and beyond the call of duty.

Now, awarding Smith falls under an unprecedented category. A man, a simple man doing nothing more than enjoying the innocence of a concert is called into action and responds with valor that is consistent to those who have lived life on the battlefield and who has witnessed the brother next to them fall, prompting the will to fight and carryon, knowing that they could fall next. For these acts of heroism, Jonathan Smith is the appropriate person worthy of the title “Citizen of the Year.”

Smith neither sought the national spotlight nor was he pushing a personal agenda. He was just someone in the right place and time when others needed him, and he answered the call. His name recognition came from a picture showing him in the hospital with a large white bandage covering the bullet hole in his neck, which was posted to the Internet and subsequently went viral bringing his act of heroism to the attention of a large audience. He doesn’t live a life of excess, nor does he wish to. His dream career is modest. He seeks to become a police officer to help others—and while doing so combat the unfortunate stigma that maligns all officers as bloodthirsty lunatics out there to kill as many innocent people as possible. Smith knows the truth.

NJ Blue Now magazine believes in recognizing true bravery and those who have taken meaningful lifesaving actions. We humbly honor those who channel their skills to force the bad out of our world so that the good can prosper and thrive. Jonathan Smith and Tommy McGrath are two such men. Saving the lives of 30 others not previously known to him without hesitation, taking a bullet in the process (not a knee), Jonathan Smith is a true hero and for that we are honored to bestow upon him our highest civilian award by naming him our 2017 Citizen of the Year.