Tiffany Smiley credits her country upbringing for teaching her strength. "I was a tomboy farm girl," she said about growing up north of Pasco, Wash., miles from town. "Those country girl experiences shaped my toughness."
Little did she realize how much courage and determination she would need. She said her adult life was idyllic in the beginning as her fiancé, Scott, prepared at West Point and she studied at Whitworth College.
"It was like this picture of the American dream," she said. "Here he's going to be this military academy graduate and he's marrying this nurse, and the future is going to be bright, and our new last name is Smiley. Oh, it's just wonderful!"
The picture changed on Sept. 11, 2001, and within six months of their wedding, Scott was deployed to Iraq. She said, "I realized, 'Oh wow, I'm serving too. This is my sacrifice as well.' "
No one could see ahead to what that sacrifice would look like. The news came April 6, 2005, with a call from her husband's commanding officer.
"He told me, 'Scotty has been hurt really bad. He came face to face with this suicide car bomb. There's shrapnel in his eyes, and I don't even know if he's going to survive.' "
Remembering how that strong leader broke down emotionally during the call, Tiffany knew their lives had changed. For five excruciating days there was nothing she could do but wait — and pray.
"I remember sort of wrestling with God a little bit," she said. But she said a quiet answer spoke to her heart. "I just had this peace come over me — like it's going to be OK."
Feeling empowered, she flew to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., to be with Scott, and once there refused to sign her husband's retirement papers — bucking advisers and refusing to listen to doctors about his dismal future.
"The doctors told me, 'He is blind. He doesn't have both of his eyes, Mrs. Smiley. He's never going to serve in the military. No one has ever done that,' " she said. "I just had this vision for him."
True to her vision and unfaltering love, Major Scott Smiley became the first blind U.S. Army officer serving in active duty and a company commander; he earned an MBA from Duke University, authored "Hope Unseen," and has done everything from sky diving to an Iron Man competition. He retired in 2015 from military service.
The couple now travel to speaking engagements — Tiffany at the forefront of empowering women — helping others see there is hope in any struggle. "I sort of pulled up my boot straps and was like, OK, this is the journey, this is the path and I'm going to have to walk it," Tiffany said about the past 13 years. "I'm going to have to show up every single day."