M. Smith joined at practice by his soldier brother

OWINGS MILLS – Ensconced in his wheelchair atop a hill at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex, John Smith squinted through the sunlight to watch his older brother, Musa Smith, practice with the running backs.<br><br> It was an emotional day for the Smith family. <br>

A United States Marine Corps corporal who lost his right leg while fighting in Iraq on April 11 when a mortar round exploded five yards in front him, John Smith reflected on the fact that he was the lone survivor from the attack.

"I feel lucky to be alive," said Smith, 21, who was awarded the Purple Heart. "I ain't got no complaints."

Musa Smith, a second-year professional, bounded up the hill after practice to greet his brother, quite aware that their reunion was almost prevented by the realities of war.

"My family and I feel lucky and blessed to still have him alive," said Musa Smith, 22, a third-round draft pick last year out of Georgia. "They say the way he got hit that the mortar round must have went off right in front of him. The people who were there with him aren't here today unfortunately.

"We're fortunate to have him here, to be able to talk to him, laugh with him and reminisce about stuff when we were growing up. It's a blessing."

Along with a group of 20 war veterans recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Smith visited the Ravens' training complex Tuesday to observe minicamp. 

Several players have made trips over the last year to Walter Reed to visit soldiers along with outside linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald. FitzGerald is a former Arizona Cardinals assistant who knew the late NFL safety Pat Tillman, an Army Ranger that died in Afghanistan.

Smith's odyssey since being wounded includes: a trip to Baghdad, surgery in Germany where his leg was amputated, followed by a trip to a military medical center in San Antonio, Texas.

Smith was in a coma for three weeks, but recovered quickly and flew to Walter Reed on Memorial Day.

Since then, John Smith's family has visited him each weekend, driving down from their Pennsylvania home.

He hopes to leave the hospital before July 22, his birthday, and live with his mother in Harrisburg, Pa., for a year.

"Then, I want to head back out on my own," said John Smith, a track and field athlete in high school who loves video games. "I feel good."

His immediate plans also include attending Ravens' games this fall. He appeared to be upbeat despite his injuries.

"A lot of people when stuff happens to them, they go downhill before they go up," Musa Smith said. "Some people never come out of it, but he's just been blessed. Having the perspective of life is a wonderful thing."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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