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Local woman relates Iraq experiences
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Photo courtesy of RICHARD BENNETT
Maj. Kimberly Bennett relaxes with a family who befriended her near the U.S. base being built near Irvil.
NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – Commissioner Richard Bennett and his wife, Mary, received the best present ever on Christmas when their daughter, Maj. Kimberly Bennett, arrived safely on U.S. soil after serving a year in the Middle East.

Technically, it was the day after Christmas “as we landed after midnight, 2 a.m. on the 26th,” said Bennett after 60 hours of traveling to get home.

Bennett has been in the U.S. Army for nearly 16 years and is a chemical officer. Deployed to Iraq a year ago with the 1st Cavalry Division, her assignment was a chemical/biological weapons specialist working on the division staff, advising the division commander regarding everything that involves chemicals on the battlefield. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tampa and a master’s from Baylor University.

As the Deputy Force Protection Officer for the Multinational Division at Victory Base in western Baghdad, Bennett spent the first six months of her tour of duty “doing everything … to keep our soldiers safe,” said Bennett. Her team provided security related equipment for the bases throughout Baghdad.

The next six months Bennett served as the Operations Officer for the 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Division along with 40 soldiers deployed to northern Iraq in the Kurdish Region. Her team’s job was to provide security to the United Nations Assistance Mission Iraq (UNAMI), provide a U.S. presence in “Kurdistan,” and to build a base just north of Irbil. “Irbil is the capital of the Kurdish Region … with claims as the oldest continuously inhabited civilization in the world,” said Bennett.

“In Northern Iraq, the people are so friendly and eager to thank us and share their culture with us,” said Bennett. “They are grateful for our country and especially for our soldiers making so many sacrifices. These are people who anyone under the age of 40 has never lived without war as a part of their life. They have lost their families in the struggle to gain a country and they are grateful that the United States saved them.”

It was Bennett’s experience that nearly everyone college age or younger could speak English and were anxious to speak it with Americans.

“Many families insisted on feeding us a home-cooked meal or at least offering us a cup of tea and some fresh fruit,” she said.

Many of the families she encountered were affiliated with the “Pershmerga” or “Freedom Fighters” who had lived in the mountains of Turkey, Syria and Iran for the past 30 years and who fought alongside the U.S. troops in 2003 during the Iraqi Invasion.

“They are certainly eager to rebuild Iraq and be done with war,” said Bennett.

Kurdish women approached Bennett frequently to speak with her.

“Something about a woman being in charge made them proud and they wanted to tell me all about their families and their accomplishments as well,” she said. “The women were very hard working, strong people. The village women were much more conservative then those in the city, but you can see they wore colorful clothing and did not necessarily cover their hair. College men and women dressed very European and walked the streets alongside peers who might wear traditional scarf on their head or face,” Bennett said.

Now that she is back in the U.S., Bennett is currently stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. She is still the Operations Officer for the 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Division with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Bennett said she felt fortunate that she was able to see so much of Iraq, making the year of her overseas duty go by faster.

“The only part about being deployed for a year that makes it so incredibly miserable is the year away from your family,” she said.

Bennett was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty, during her tour of duty in Iraq.
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