EDWARDSVILLE — Growing up in Edwardsville, Third Judicial Circuit Associate Judge Sarah Smith, a daughter of a lineman and a stay-at-home mom, knew that if she wanted to go college, she would have to figure out a way to pay for it.
One day after she graduated from Edwardsville High School in 1994, she broke the big news to her parents that she enlisted in the army as a mechanic.
“I used the GI bill to pay for undergraduate (school) and law school,” Smith told the Record. “During a drill weekend, sometime after I passed the bar, my commanding officer came out to the motor pool and said, 'Smith, you really need to think about looking for a direct commission and into becoming a JAG Officer.’ After thinking about it for some time, I decided that I wanted to make a career from the Army, so I decided to apply for a direct commission and I was sworn in as a JAG officer in the Illinois Army National Guard.”
More than two decades after Smith started her military career, she was recently certified as a military judge by the Judge Advocate General of the United States Army after graduating from the 60th Military Judge Course at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Va. She is the Illinois National Guard’s first military judge under the Illinois Code of Military Justice.
Smith admits she is extremely honored to be selected for this position.
“I honestly could never have imagined that 22 years ago, when I enlisted in the army as a mechanic, that I would be selected for this position,” Smith said.
As a military judge, she will preside over courts-martial of members of the Illinois Army National Guard who are charged with offenses under the Illinois Code of Military Justice (ICMJ), which parallels the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Certain types of court-martials can only be adjudicated by a military judge who is separate from the military command structure and therefore, cannot be influenced in their decisions.
As soon as she received word that she had been selected, she began working on the Illinois Manual for Courts Martial. Though the code was enacted granting the Illinois National Guard the authority to try certain offenses through a court martial, she explained there were no military court rules or trial procedures in place if a case arose and it needed to be tried.
“It was apparent that making sure soldiers received the appropriate due process in these proceedings fell squarely within my responsibility,” Smith said. “The biggest challenge of my new military position will be essentially creating a court system where no system previously existed. Luckily, my civilian judicial experience will go a long way in assisting me with this task.”
Though she has had difficult experiences in the military, she believes they have shaped her into a better officer. Most importantly, she said military service has opened so many doors for her. One of her most unforgettable moments was when she was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She was selected to mentor and train the only female general in the Afghan National Army.
“During this mentorship, I was able to work directly with the Afghan Minister of Education and the Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs to plan and coordinate dozens of humanitarian assistance missions to refugee villages and schools all over Afghanistan," Smith said.
In addition to serving as a deputy staff judge advocate in Afghanistan, she also served as a chief of administrative law in Kosovo. During her first mission, she was mobilized in support of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Today, she is a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
In addition to her judicial experience, Smith acted as a prosecutor and defense counsel while serving as a military attorney, including as a certified special victim’s investigator.
Smith has earned many service awards, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Kosovo Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.
In Madison County, Smith presides over the court's Family Division. She is a member of the Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee, the Standing Committee on Military Affairs for the Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois Judges Association for which she has been nominated to serve on the Board of Directors for a three-year term.
Smith is married to Maj. Michael Raschen, a three-tour combat veteran, and she has three sons.