ALTON – The legal and military career of Edwardsville’s Sarah Smith has seemingly always rested on the cusp of something historic, even during its meteoric rise.
The 2018 Alton YWCA Women of Distinction honoree has gone from an ambitious Army mechanic to Illinois’ first ever military judge, possibly a Madison and Bond County Third Judicial Circuit seat and likely U.S. Army Colonel after 23 years of military service, earning the Bronze Star after a deployment in Afghanistan, also serving as the state’s highest-ranking JAG officer.
And that’s just the cliff notes.
“I come from a middle class family,” Smith begins the story of her life. “My dad (a lineman) always taught me that whatever you want, you have to be willing to work hard to get it.”
“When I enlisted, the recruiter mentioned that they had a $1,500 bonus to go in as a mechanic, and he didn’t think I’d take it,” she recalls. “But when I heard that, I was like, ‘Heck yeah!’”
That’s where she stayed through earning her law degree via the GI bill, and parlayed her mechanic career into the roll of a JAG officer.
Later, Smith worked at Ezra & Associates for over a decade. In her judicial career, she has tried hundreds of bench trials and successfully prosecuted dozens of sexual assault and other complex cases.
Last year, she was appointed the first ever Illinois National Guard Military Judge, charged with setting a new precedent in possible courts martial.
All-the-while, Smith has remained an active member of the National Guard, attending drill for the required weekend per month.
Just recently, she’s been selected as a candidate of United States Colonel. The affirmation is a process of vetting, that includes scrutiny from the FBI, Pentagon and the Office of the President of the United States.
Only in her early 40s, Smith is admittedly surprised at how quickly her career has escalated. While she’s on the November ballot for Circuit Court Judge, she’s not sure at how high her career could ultimately reach.
“I never shut a door once it’s been opened,” she says. “I’d absolutely be open to anything, as long as it’s at the right time and for the right reasons.”
Looking at Smith’s resume, it’s difficult to see where she finds the time for the seemingly endless facets of her career, while raising three young children.
“Honestly, I don’t,” she explains. “I have a wonder husband (Michael Raschen) and a big-time supportive mother. Those two people help me out so much. My husband hasn’t necessarily given up his own (military) career aspirations, but he’s sort of put those on hold. He’s so supportive. I have them, and that’s the only way I can do it. He knows I’m impassioned about this, and he sees that it’s what makes me happy. When it comes to something new I’m thinking about doing, I always run it by him first… Family is always first, but I have a very supportive husband.”
Smith attributes much of the catalogue of her achievements as circumstance.
“It’s just like the stars and moon sort of aligned,” she says. “I will say that I’ve worked very hard in my military career and to become an associate judge. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I didn’t think any of this would happen so soon in my life.”
That experience rolls with the advice she would give to young people pursuing her career, or any other aspirations.
“It’s exactly what my dad taught me,” she said. “You just really have to work hard for it. Any deficiency can be overcome by hard work. You just have to go after what you want.”
Still, above all, Smith says some of her most rewarding public service is work she’s done with the Boys and Girls Club of Alton.
“I get more from those girls and from those kids than anything,” she said. “That’s what I would encourage anyone to do. My big motto is, ‘Be bigger than yourself.’ Just get out there and help.”