Army Spc. Keith Walley remembered his best friend, Pvt. Tyler J. Smith, on Wednesday as a protector.

“He’s watching over us right now, and I know he will be watching over us for the rest of our lives,” said an emotional Walley in a telephone interview Wednesday from Forward Operating Base Falcon, just outside Baghdad, where his best friend lost his life last Friday.

Smith, who graduated with Walley from Telstar Regional High School in Bethel in 2004 and joined the Army a year later with him, died after an attack on the base where both were serving as combat engineers.

Walley said although the two were on the same base with about 600 to 800 other soldiers, they had only bumped into each other about three times since arriving in Iraq last fall. They were in different units.

Walley said he last saw Smith in early February while both were picking up their laundry. They talked for a while about their time in Iraq and when they might be going home – something they planned on doing together. “He wasn’t sure when he was going though,” said Walley, who is due to go home for a month or so in July before returning to Iraq for another five months.

The day the 22-year-old Smith was killed, Walley said he was out on patrol trying to spot roadside bombs.

That evening, he returned to the base to learn there had been an attack. “I heard somebody had died that evening. They didn’t know who,” Walley said. The next morning “my leadership informed me” it was Smith, Walley said.

He knew Smith was working at the motor pool, an outside area on the base where vehicles are parked, and that they had received indirect mortar or rocket hits from outside the base.

Walley said soldiers who were injured in the attack were assessed by a medical team and then quickly flown to a medical station.

Walley said he was not allowed to tell anyone until Smith’s family was notified. Then he was given clearance to call his wife, Shawna, who is living at Fort Stewart in Georgia in housing near Smith’s wife, Heather Bolstridge Smith, formerly of Bethel. Walley, who was a best man for Smith at his wedding last June, said his wife has been with Heather to comfort her.

He said he does not know if his friend’s body has been sent home yet, and he does not know if he will be able to attend the funeral. It will depend on the date, he said.

“He was a fun guy. He was always very generous. He would give you the shirt off his back if yours was wet,” Walley said. “He was always there to protect. I was very lucky to have known him.”

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