Frank Smith, USMC E-6 Veteran
Proudly honoring Frank for his years of service and advocacy

Meets Challenges Head-On

“I’ve always liked a challenge,” said Frank Smith, a10-year veteran of the US Marine Corps (USMC). “I played high school basketball here in Albuquerque. I joined the Marines right out of high school and took assignments I knew little about. I fast-tracked my college and law school education on the GI Bill. Then I dabbled in microbrewing in downtown Albuquerque and worked for over 20 years as an automotive preowned director. I now own a small business that provides mid-term rentals for first responders.  

“I’ve recently started advocating for veterans and now I’m running for office,” said this member of the Veterans and Military Families Caucus (VMFC), smiling.  He is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for the NM House District 23 in eastern Sandoval County. “Running for office is just another something new,” the Albuquerque native said. (Learn more about Frank Smith, the candidate, HERE).

“One thing I liked about active duty –
I have never been involved with a more professional organization
than the Marine Corps.
The caucus is like that. What a group of dedicated people;
what teamwork, what focus for veterans, military personnel, and their families.”
Frank Smith (US Marine veteran E-6)

Frank also has the attitude to be successful at each challenge he faces. Take, for example:

  • His ability on the basketball court, which was honed at Manzano High School.
  • His numerous USMC meritorious promotions.
  • His law school semester at Oxford (England) where he learned to brew ale, resulted in opening a brew pub in Albuquerque.
  • His reason for running for office: “When I advocated for veterans in the 2024 NM Legislative session, I saw the incumbent fail his constituents. I think they deserve better.’”

NM NATIVE: Frank grew up in Albuquerque where he played basketball for Manzano High School. His family lived on the edge of two high school districts, but only one of the schools had a good basketball team. So, he was glad when he could transfer to Manzano. “After all,” the avid basketball player said, “Manzano had a much better basketball team.”

THE MARINE CORPS: “In 1975, I enlisted for three years right out of high school,” Frank explained, “because it was the only ticket I could afford out of Albuquerque. I wanted to see the world.” He and a few other recruits took the night train to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego. They all ended up in the same platoon in boot camp.

“I could have gone to a branch other than the USMC. People asked me why them? The Marine Corps was like basketball; it’s all about teamwork, hard work, and leadership. Adjusting to boot camp was not difficult because of that,” the former high school player said.

“I thrived at El Toro. I was promoted to Sergeant (E-5) in less than two years. I was only on a three-year enlistment, so I was eligible for reenlistment after two years, which I did. I chose to become a Drill Instructor over assignments in Hawaii or the Philippines. Under Marine Corps regulations, you had to be 21 years old to be a Drill Instructor and I was only 20, so I was granted an age waiver from Headquarter”, he explained.

“For an enlisted Marine, a successful routine on the drill field was the best thing you could do for your career. Drill field attrition rate is 50% – very high,” he explained. “Back in the 1970’s, a USMC drill instructor had absolute power. They say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I wouldn’t say we had absolute power, but you exercised a lot of control over recruits and often people crossed the line. I ran seven platoons through boot camp. Platoon sizes ranged from 100 in the summer to as low as 60 in the winter,” Frank recalled. “The drill field and I were a perfect fit.”

“I learned more during those two years than any other time in my life,” Frank admitted. “We had recruits from all wallks of life and every corner of the country. My job was to get them all to work together for a common purpose. The most important thing that I learned on the Drill Field was how to lead people,” he said proudly. He was meritoriously promoted to Staff Sergeant (E-6) before transferring to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, CA

“I was a Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Marine Detachment at DLI. This was a completely different animal than the drill field. It’s basically a college campus. Marines there were learning foreign languages: Russian, Arabic, Korean – you name it! All military branches were there, along with other federal government departments that required foreign languages. We also provided support for Marine Officers studying at the Naval Post Graduate School on the other side of Monterey. This duty station required a different set of leadership skills,” he explained.

“From there, I was transferred to the Fleet Marine Force, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, NC. My orders were to an Infantry Battalion at Camp Lejeune, but when I checked in, I was reassigned to Personnel and Classification. We ensured that units headed to the Mediterranean Sea and Africa were properly staffed so they could complete their mission. They had personnel priority over all units. After a year, I was supposed to be assigned to my original infantry battalion, but I was sent to Division Headquarters to work for the Chief of Staff and MajGen Al Gray, who later became commandant of the Marine Corps,” Frank explained.

“Two memorable things happened when I was there,” he quietly recalled. “One eventually made national news for decades. The other left me with deep personal turmoil,” he reflected.

    • “During this time, there was chatter about toxic waste in the water supply at Camp Lejeune. Ten or fifteen years ago, I got a letter from the VA. It asked about different cancers and had a long list of symptoms I may have had. I filled it out. Since then, I get annual exams under the Pact Act,” he said. Read here for more information about Camp Lejeune.


  • “But what stood out even more was the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, where 208 Marines were killed. Most of the Marines killed in that bombing were from the battalion I was initially assigned to, including my replacement. How can I deal with this guy getting killed instead of me?” Frank reflected.

“A year or so later, my enlistment was up and I chose not to reenlist, Nothing in my life was more satisfying that serving in the Marine Corps,” he said. “I have never worked with a more professional group of people in my entire life than those I served with in the Marines Corps. From El Toro, to the Naval Post Graduate School, to Camp LeJeune, they were professionals throughout. One thing a lot of them had in common was a formal education. I originally planned to retire after 20 years and then go to college on the GI Bill; but a new GI Bill came out that sunsetted the GI Bill I would have retired under. Then I’d have had no educational benefits at all. So it was time to move on.”

POST-MILITARY LIFE: Frank attacked his civilian life with the same tenacity he showed on the basketball court and as a Marine. “I was in a hurry to catch up,” he said. He attended community college in North Carolina, then transferred to and graduated from the University of New Mexico (UNM). He then graduated from Santa Clara School of Law.

“I wasn’t messing around,” he said. “I took 16-20 hours a semester. I graduated from law school but never practiced. Instead, I opened a brew pub, Rio Bravo Restaurant and Brewer, in the early 1990’s in downtown Albuquerque. It was a new trend just starting in California. While in law school, I did a semester at Oxford (in England). That’s where I really learned that there was more to beer than Coors and Bud. I was introduced to ales there. I thought I could do something like this in Albuquerque. The brew pub lasted six years. I was trying to support downtown revitalization. It was successful for quite a while, but downtown was a bust. It was time to move on. I think of myself as the grandfather of all these breweries today,” Frank said, smiling.

Then he got in automotive sales, working almost 20 years as a preowned director. “I liked it a lot because you were always setting goals and working your plan and always keeping score. I like to rack up wins,” Frank boasted.

POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT: “At a monthly meeting of the Democratic Party of Sandoval County, I heard about the VMFC. Claudia (Risner, VMCF chair) gave a presentation, and I signed up last fall. From there, I started advocating for my fellow veterans at the NM State Legislature session in 2024,” he explained.

“I testified in support of NM House Bill 298, Service Members and Suicide Prevention, as part of the VMFC advocacy team. I saw political games being played that put legislation that is vital to veterans, active duty military personnel and their families at risk. Politicians love to publicly support veterans and vote for these bills. But party politics plays a role in that as well. I believe in always putting people over party,” he declared.

“Claudia invited me to get involved with veterans’ advocacy. It’s a learning experience for sure. I’m honored to be around people who care so much. One thing I liked about active duty – I have never been involved with a more professional organization than the Marine Corps. The caucus is like that. What a group of dedicated people; what teamwork, what focus for veterans, military personnel and their families,” he said proudly.

“I always kind of thought of running for the legislature,” Frank admitted. “But I was always working. I’ve kicked it around ever since I got out of the Marine Corps. If not now, when? It’s another something new!”

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