JACKSON–Gov. Phil Bryant has named Col. Lee Smithson as incoming Executive Director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Current MEMA Executive Director Robert Latham is retiring effective Jan. 31 and Col. Smithson will begin on Feb. 1. He is currently Director of Military Support for the Mississippi National Guard and has been in that role since April 2005.
Latham was appointed Executive Director of MEMA by Gov. Bryant on Jan. 10, 2012, a position he previously held under Govs. Ronnie Musgrove and Haley Barbour from Feb. 2000 through June 2006.
“Robert Latham has meant a great deal to the State of Mississippi during his time at MEMA that spans back almost 15 years. He has led Mississippi through countless difficult times such as Hurricane Katrina, multiple tornado outbreaks, and numerous other events,” Gov. Bryant said. “I thank him for his unwavering service to the people of Mississippi and wish him well in retirement.”
“Helping this state become better prepared is an accomplishment I will always be proud of, but the most rewarding experiences for me have been helping people who have lost everything in a disaster and offering hope for their future,” Latham said. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I have had in the more than ten years as MEMA Executive Director.”
Col. Smithson has served as Director of Military Support for the Mississippi National Guard during Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, Ike and Isaac, Mississippi River Flood of 2011, tornado outbreaks in April 2010 and April 2011 and the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill in 2010 and the tornado outbreaks in 2014.
“I am pleased to appoint Col. Smithson to MEMA Executive Director and know his extensive, direct experience in disaster related events suits him well to take over and lead,” Gov. Bryant said. “He has a wealth of operations knowledge from his time at the Mississippi National Guard where he has worked closely with MEMA during many disasters and this will allow him to seamlessly transition into the role.”
“I am extremely honored that Governor Bryant has selected me for this position. For over a decade, I’ve focused my efforts as an officer in the Mississippi National Guard on homeland security and disaster operations,” Col. Smithson said. “I worked side by side with MEMA during Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac, the Smithville, Louisville and Tupelo tornados, the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and the flood of 2011. MEMA is renowned for its expertise in disaster response operations and the employees are some of the best in our nation when a disaster occurs. I look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of Mississippi as the MEMA Executive Director.”
Col. Smithson has also held numerous command and staff positions during his thirty-one year career including: commander of an M-1 tank company in the Federal Republic of Germany, Infantry Battalion Executive Officer with duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Commander and First Cavalry Division Rear Operations Center with duty in Baghdad, Iraq.
He has received numerous awards and decorations including the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with four Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with four Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal, the Coast Guard Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the NATO Medal and the Mississippi Magnolia Cross, which is the state’s highest military award. He also has the Combat Action Badge.
Col. Smithson’s military education includes the Armor Officer Basic and Advance Courses, Combined Arms Services Staff School, Command and General Staff Officer’s Course and the U.S. Army War College.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Tulane University, a Master of Strategic Studies Degree from the U.S. Army War College and a Master of Homeland Security Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.
Col. Smithson is married to the former Elizabeth Black of Jackson and they have two children.