USO Tribute Cincinnati 2012 Honorees

Army Captain Leslie Nicole Smith

U.S. Army Capt. (Ret.) Leslie Nicole Smith served as both NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) officer and public affairs officer from 1991 to 2002. As public affairs officer, she was responsible for planning and executing itineraries for all of the distinguished visitors, including politicians and celebrities.

In 2001, Smith deployed to Bosnia as the public affairs officer in the Joint Visitors Bureau. Two weeks before the end of her deployment, she developed a blood clot in her left leg and was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The doctors diagnosed a blood disorder and she began treatment. Her condition took a turn for the worse when she had a severe allergic reaction to medication. Due to the complications, she lost her left leg right below her knee, the vision in her left eye and 95 percent of her vision in her right eye. Leslie is now legally blind. Perplexed at the suddenness of her condition, doctors determine that she might have been exposed to a chemical agent or toxin in Bosnia.

She spent seven long months at Walter Reed—undergoing more than 20 operations—in intensive care, recovery and rehabilitation. After her retirement from the Army and release from Walter Reed, her first job was senior media relations specialist at USO World Headquarters. She then worked for the Department of Navy as public affairs specialist at the Joint Warfare Analysis Center.

In 2008 Smith spoke at the Republican National Convention about her story, saying, “None of us are promised a life without difficulties, but what we are promised is that with every day we are blessed to spend on this earth, in this great country, is an opportunity to make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today.”

Earlier this year, Smith starred in an episode of “Days of Our Lives,” where she shed light on the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. She shared her own struggles with PTSD and encouraged veterans to participate in both individual counseling and support groups for veterans. She currently resides in King George, Va., where she participates in rehab for blindness with her dog, a yellow Labrador named Issac.

Honoree Update:

Leslie ( and her wonderful four legged best friend Issac ) continues advocating for fellow wounded warriors , their families, and the military. She serves as ambassador for the Gary Sinise and Travis Manion Foundations and is spokesperson for both Fatigues to Fabulous and Freedom Alliance. She is becoming a familiar face in the media. Leslie appeared on Project Runway All Stars (Lifetime) for a special episode dedicated to female veterans. In addition, she has participated in national radio fundraising campaigns for Fisher House Foundation, which provides housing to military families who want to be close to their hospitalized loved one, and a commercial for the USO with Toby Keith and fellow wounded warriors. She completed a refresher course in Peer Mentor Training with the Wounded Warrior Project and became involved with Operation Warrior Wishes. Recently she participated in an event along with the Boston Bombing amputees. Her story will soon be released in November of 2013 as part of the NY Times bestseller list series “American Heroes” by Lt. Oliver (Ollie) North.

Corporal Michael Strahle

Cpl. Michael Strahle enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003. Two years later, he was deployed to Iraq with Lima Company. The seven-month deployment provided much-needed stability to the Anbar Province of Western Iraq. Tragically, this stability cost the Columbus-based unit 23 lives and nearly a dozen more from supporting units.

On May 11, 2005, Strahle was one of 14 marines riding in an amphibious assault vehicle near the Syrian border when they ran into an improvised explosive device, or IED. Six members of the Columbus-based Marine Reserve were killed. Strahle was injured as he was riddled with shrapnel from the blast.

Strahle immediately began first aid on his wounds until fellow corpsmen could reach him. He was then flown to a nearby field hospital in Al Asaad, Iraq, and once his condition was stable, went on to Landstuhl, Germany, where most of his major surgeries were performed. Nearly a week later, Strahle arrived in Bethesda, Md., where his family awaited his arrival at the National Naval Medical Center. He was later medically retired from the USMC in 2008.

Anita Miller, an artist from Westerville, Ohio, heard about what happened to the marines in Iraq and wanted a way to memorialize these fallen brothers in arms. She crafted a traveling exhibit titled “The Eyes of Freedom,” memorializing Lima Company and their sacrifice. Miller created the artwork and in 2011 Strahle joined the cause, traveling with the exhibit and recanting his own experiences with Lima Company. He said, “We got a lot of recognition for the casualties that we took, but it’s all the same mission. That’s what the memorial is all about. It’s not about Lima Company, but about anyone who’s ever put on a uniform.”

Today, Strahle works as the director of The Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial. He travels around the country with the exhibit to honor the men and women who continue to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Honoree Update:

Mike resides in Columbus Ohio. He has dedicated his time and talent to The Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial. This traveling memorial, delivered by R+L Carriers, depicts the fallen of Lima Company 3/25, one of the hardest hit units in Operation Iraqi Freedom. These 23 life-size portraits have become a remembrance of spirit honoring all those who answered the call to service, in every branch of our armed forces. These Eyes reflect the thousands who have served, fought, and paid the ultimate sacrifice defending Freedom. The memorial has done over 80 events and travelled across the country. Since last year Mike and the memorial have been to Florida, Texas, Oregon, Washington State, and Montana. Mike was invited this June to NYC by the Wounded Warrior Project and honored at their annual Carry Forward Awards. When weather and time permit, Mike can be found on the golf course or his motorcycle. He plans to return to The Ohio State University in 2014 to complete his degree in Finance.

Sergeant 1st Class Aaron Causey

Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Causey graduated from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) training in 2001 after enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy from 2001 to 2005, where he completed a deployment to Iraq as well as several training missions worldwide. In 2005 Causey transferred to Army EOD, where he was stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. With the 38th EOD unit at Fort Stewart, he completed his second deployment in Iraq, this time for 15 months, from 2006 to 2008. He was then stationed at 720th EOD in Mannheim, Germany. After his two-year tour in Germany, Causey, along with wife, Kat, moved to Fort Drum, N.Y., where he joined the 760th EOD. In March 2011 he was deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, for what was to be a year-long deployment.

On Sept. 7, 2011, he was performing dismounted EOD operations when he went to investigate a potential IED and subsequently detonated a secondary device. Causey sustained eventual double above-the-knee amputations, two finger amputations, and multiple other injuries. His surgery was performed at Kandahar Airfield. He was then transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for several days before arriving at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center-Bethesda on Sept. 13, 2011, where he currently resides. Causey received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, along with several other military honors and medals for his service.

Causey intends to continue his service in government work and obtain his bachelor’s degree.

Honoree Update:

Aaron lives in Washington D.C. with his wife Kat. Both he and Kat are continuing their educations in their respective fields. Aaron is pursuing Physics at MIT/Georgetown and Kat is seeking a degree in non-profit public affairs at Montgomery College. Aaron has gotten involved in adaptive sports, and is enjoying kayaking and competition shooting. Aaron will be retiring from active duty in November 2013. The Causey’s biggest change is yet to come. After being told they could not have children, Kat and Aaron are expecting! Their little girl, already with a lovely name, Alexandra Jayne is due in February.

Staff Sergeant Ross Cox

Staff Sgt. Ross Cox, an Amarillo, Texas, native, has been an infantryman in the U.S. Army since April 2001. He was deployed three times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and was one of the first of 28 Americans on the ground in Afghanistan.

During his second tour in Afghanistan, he deployed as an automatic rifleman, but left as leader of the infantry’s fire team. He successfully led this fire team through Afghanistan for nine months. After his second tour, he was transferred to Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was assigned to a unit that was already in Afghanistan. Cox and his family, jaded by three moves in three years, had finally wanted to settle down. On October 5, 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan for a third time.

When he arrived in Afghanistan, he was made a platoon sergeant of an infantry STRYKER platoon. On patrol his unit came up against resistance in an area where a soldier had been severely injured by an IED the day prior. In his own words, he describes the scene:

“We were in a drainage ditch that was about 3 to 4 feet wide, depending on where you were standing. As we were walking, we came to an empty box that looked like it was a component of an IED. The platoon leader came and examined the box, and he moved back to the head of the formation. We walked about 30 more meters, and I just heard an explosion and knew I was hurt.”

He was taken by helicopter to a medical facility in Afghanistan before making several stops on his way to Germany. Five days after the attack, he was transferred to Brook Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Honoree Update:

Since last year, Ross has medically retired. He is currently contemplating grad school to earn his MBA. He and his wife, along with their four children are in the process of buying a new house in Amarillo, Tx., where they will be closer to family, and couldn’t be happier about the move!

Corporal Michael Logue

In 2004 Cpl. Michael Logue was a student at Ohio University when he was told his reserve infantry unit, Lima Company, would deploy to Iraq. The U.S. Marine unit spent 210 days of their 240-day deployment engaging in combat. During this time, they killed 203 enemy insurgents, wounded 100 and captured 154.

Lima Company suffered 23 casualties and saw a third of its members killed or wounded in action. Logue was fortunate enough to suffer no serious physical injuries. When he returned from duty, Logue was faced with another issue: the overwhelming experience of returning to school at Ohio University in Athens.

Along with a group of other combat veterans, Logue was having his grades withheld, tuition payment troubles and was unable to register for classes. He said, “It’s a large culture shock … If someone doesn’t understand issues with the university or how different systems work, far too often guys will just leave OU.”

With this in mind, Logue decided to start a student organization, Combat Veterans Club, to help make Ohio University a more veteran-friendly campus. He has served as Veterans’ Affairs commissioner for the university’s Student Senate and worked to develop an Office of Veterans’ Services. The Office of Veterans’ Services is funded by private support, with $133,000 raised in its first year in existence, the bulk of which goes toward funding scholarships, a peer mentor program, programming and staffing. Thanks to donor support, more than $200,000 was raised this past year to support the program. The university now boasts a growing veteran population.

Logue received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps on Sept. 29, 2011. In June 2011 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in aviation. He currently works as a flight instructor while he finishes up his master’s degree in business administration. He plans to continue his development work and hopes to create a veterans’ alumni organization once he graduates.

Honoree Update:

During The last year Michael earned a Gold seal flight instructor certificate for his accomplishment certificating over 10 new pilots. Michael flew over 650 hours and flew his first jet When Michael was not in the air he was busy Completing his Masters in business administration from Ohio University. He successfully completed the MBA in August.

Michael volunteers his time as a business developer and was a founding board member of Veteran Kinnection, a local, veteran led, non-profit organization that assists motivated transitioning veterans with education, employment, wellness, and personal finance. Vet Kinnect works collaboratively with individuals and other organizations to promote continued improvement and success of our veterans while urging meaningful community involvement and participation among our veteran population.

This month Michael accepted an appointment from the Department of the Air Force to be a contract specialist. He will be responsible for procurement and acquisitions of aircraft, weapon systems, and technology.