MMA referee Mark Smith may be a new face to many UFC fans, but he already has received positive commentary for his job at the third man in the cage at UFC 181. This is not the first time Smith has distinguished himself professionally, the referee and judge comes to the sport of mixed martial arts from a surprisingly impressive background.
Smith is a graduate of the United States Air Force academy, and a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel. In the Air Force, Smith served as a fighter pilot and became one of the first African-Americans to join the Air Force’s ultra-prestigious demonstration team, the Thunderbirds. In 2006, After retiring from the Armed Forces, Smith assumed a position of White House Fellow. For those unfamiliar with the White House Fellowship, Whitehouse.gov describes it thusly:
Founded in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson, the White House Fellows program is one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. White House Fellowships offer exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government.
In 2012, Politic365.com profiled Smith, and reported on the circumstances regarding his departure from the Air Force. Apparently Smith, an instructor pilot with combat experience, had positioned himself on a track for senior-command positions, but found his career derailed by what he believes was racial discrimination.
By 2007 everything seemed to be on track professionally. Mark had finished his military schooling, completed his second of two masters degree and was headed to Nellis AFB to become a Director of Operations. The move meant he was continuing on a professional leadership track…
During his time at Nellis AFB Mark Smith was repeatedly denied command positions, forced to hear racist rhetoric being spewed by his commanders and despite being rated #1 for his performance in key positions, he was repeatedly told “the jury is still out and we need you to prove yourself one more time for us to be sure.”
… After his retirement Mark learned that misleading fraudulent performance report had been created. It wasn’t enough these people had sought to end his military career, but now they attempt to tarnish it for good with a poor final performance report.
Fortunately, since his retirement, Smith has landed on his feet in the private sector and found his way into the world of prize fighting. The retired Air Force officer’s fight against racial injustice in his former branch of the Armed Services, however, has not ended. Smith still crusades for what he sees as a need to fix discriminatory practices in the USAF, in part through his website, Abetterairforce.org.
Regardless of the outcome of Smith’s activism, it seems that high-level MMA has a new competent referee on its hands.
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