Stateline Native Finishes 2004 Strong in the Air Force

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After spending months above the skies all around the world, Air Force Sgt. and Rockford native Dave Smith has a special New Year's gift: quality time with his family.

"Sometimes it's just a phone call, so it means a lot to come back here and get everybody together. It means a lot," Smith said.

Until Sunday, Smith is on leave from duty at Offit Air Force in Omaha. This summer, the 16-year veteran received the ultimate promotion. He's one of only 15 security officers for the man largely responsible for the nation's security: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"Whenever you see him pulling up, your heart starts pumping. He's a real important guy and we're all excited each time we see him. We get the same effect like it's the first time we're seeing him," Smith said.

The sergeant's protection means many weeks are spent flying atop international soil, from India to Iraq. Smith's wife and two children admit while the sergeant's constant travel is a tough adjustment, they couldn't be more proud.

"When we met he was young, fresh in the Air Force and I told him "put your mind to it, reach to the top," and he sure did," wife Zoi Smith said.

"When the garage door opens, I ran over there and I go hug him, and I go inside and we eat and play video games," Terry Smith said.

It's those precious moments that Smith and his family will enjoy this weekend in Rockford, a place where big dreams began for the Air Force sergeant.

"Every time I come back here, it gives me a break, coming back home, sleeping in my original bed, and my grandpa welcomes us back," Dave Smith said.