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Name: Smith, James B.
Current Position: Previous Ambassador

James B. Smith reportedly donated $3,300 to President Barack Obama’s election, but that’s not what got him the ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia. What put the former Air Force general in Obama’s good graces was his decision in 2008 to endorse Obama at a time when the upstart Democrat was still trying to prove his national security credentials against his challenger, Hillary Clinton.

Unlike some of Obama’s other ambassadorial choices who had little or no prior experience in the country they’ve been assigned (such as Donald Gips to South Africa or John Roos to Japan), Smith at least has spent time in Saudi Arabia, back when he was a fighter pilot flying missions during Desert Storm. As a longtime Air Force officer, and most recently an executive for defense contractor Raytheon, Smith is also well versed in American military hardware, the most important U.S. export to Saudi Arabia.
A resident of Salem, New Hampshire, Smith graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a bachelor’s in military history in 1974, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He then attended Indiana University, where he received a master’s degree in history in 1975.
From February 1975 to February 1976, Smith was stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas for student pilot training. He remained at Laughlin until September 1979, serving as a T-38 instructor pilot. During this time he was promoted to first lieutenant and then captain.

For six months starting in October 1979, Smith received training on how to fly what was then the Air Force’s new tactical fighter, the F-15 Eagle. Upon completing his training, he was assigned to the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Camp New Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

From March 1982 to June 1984, Smith served as a training division staff officer, and later as executive officer serving under the deputy chief of staff for operations at the USAF headquarters in Europe, located at Ramstein Air Base in West Germany. He was promoted to the rank of major at this time.
Smith returned to the United States in June 1984 to serve as assistant operations officer for the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. In December 1985, he was made chief of the Standardization and Evaluation Division for the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman.

His rise through the ranks continued in May 1987, making lieutenant colonel, and the following month, he was sent to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to serve as special assistant to the deputy chief of staff for operations for Headquarters Tactical Air Command. Five months later Smith became the operations officer for the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, and in August 1989 he received his first command, taking over Langley’s 94th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Smith was made assistant deputy commander for operations of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley, and then was given the same post for the 4404th Provisional Wing stationed at Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia. He flew several combat sorties during Desert Storm, giving him more than 4,000 flying hours for his career including his time in F-15s and T-38s.
After returning home from the war, Smith was sent to study at the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., during which time he was promoted to colonel. After finishing his studies, he became the Air Force Chief of Staff chair at the National War College, before assuming command of the 325th Operations Group at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in July 1994.

Two years later he was promoted to vice director for operations at Headquarters North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
In July 1998, Smith was deployed to Japan to become commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base. He was promoted to brigadier general on Oct 1, 1998, and returned to the U.S. in August 2000 to serve as deputy commander of the Joint Warfighting Center at the Joint Training Analysis and Simulation Center in Suffolk, Virginia, where he was responsible for managing the joint force exercise and training development program. This would prove to be Smith’s last Air Force assignment, as he retired from the service in October 2002.
Like many high-ranking former military and Pentagon personnel, Smith joined the private sector after his retirement. He first went to work for Lockheed Martin as the company’s director of the Navy C2 programs, before moving to Raytheon. His positions at the defense contractor were vice president of precision engagement in Tucson, Arizona, followed by vice president of government business in Wichita, Kansas. He was serving as International Business Development Executive for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems when Obama appointed him to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to which Raytheon has been providing weapons and services since 1966.
In January 2008, Smith joined a long list of “national security experts” who endorsed Obama for president. The former Air Force officer made a higher profile endorsement of Obama in March, joining nine other high ranking military officers who came out in support of the Democrat as he strove to convince voters that Clinton was not the superior choice on issues of defense and national security.
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