At the end of a four-and-a-half-hour floor session Thursday, the Senate chamber took a few minutes to rally around one of its own.
Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) left the chamber for a final time this session on Thursday. Smith reports for duty Friday as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He will deploy to Afghanistan for eight months in support of Operation Resolute Support, where he will mostly be doing intelligence work.
But before that, some pomp and circumstance and praying and breaking up had to take place in the Senate chamber.
“I’ve had some tough breakups in my life and there have been moments where I can be a difficult person,” Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), Smith’s seatmate in the chamber started off. “But apparently sitting next to me on the Senate floor has created the opportunity for someone to think that going on a combat mission to Afghanistan would be better than continuing the rest of session.”
Ferguson went on to thank Smith, 37, for his heroism and service to the country, leading to a standing ovation from the chamber.
“Sorry to be breaking up with you, Bill,” Smith said before addressing the chamber.
He told his colleagues about his desire to join the military in the hours immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the lessons he’s learned since.
“My experience in the military has given me renewed faith in international organizations and their ability to resolve conflict peacefully. So I’m proud to be supporting the mission as we move forward. And I think there will be peaceful withdrawal eventually,” Smith said. “I’m optimistic on that point.”
He also told the chamber that his experiences abroad have given him a perspective on the “fragility of government” and helped him to refocus his attention on the work the legislature does every day.
“From the End-of-Life Option Act to the minimum wage and overriding vetoes, this is all part of that [democratic] experiment,” Smith said. “It’s the honor of a lifetime to partake in that experiment and that maintenance of our democracy with all of you.”
Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County and Harford) told Smith they’ve battled on policy issues on the floor, but always with respect for one another.
“You’re our friend, you’re our brother, and we want you to know we want you to be safe and take care of yourself,” Jennings said. “Your daughter has 46 aunts and uncles in here who are going to take care of her.”