The thought of war terrifies most people. Not Sgt. Travis Bennett. He returned from a four-year stint in the Marines last July and wishes he could go back.
"I thought it was fun. It was a good time," Bennett said.
Bennett, 24, is a 2000 Grant Union graduate. He is the son of Penny Bennett of John Day and Ed Bennett of Mt. Vernon.
Bennett joined the Marine Corp. in December 2001. He trained at Camp Pendleton, Calif. and was stationed at nearby 29 Palms. He was deployed three times to Iraq, where he served as a mortar man.
The first deployment was the worst, he said.
There was a possibility that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons. For their protection, the troops had to wear "mop suits," chemical weapons suits with charcoal in the lining to absorb chemicals. When enemy aircraft appeared, an alarm rang, and they put on their gas masks.
During the summer months, it could get into the 100s.
That's hot, especially when you have your gear on, he said.
The first time he was deployed to Iraq the troops didn't have enough of the things they needed.
"It was ridiculous. Our Humvees had no armor at all," he said.
Tanks and AAVs (Amphibious Armor Vehicles) led the convoy into battle. Bennett's platoon was behind them in Humvees.
"We had great air support, so they couldn't really touch us," he said.
The men were given one meal (MRE) and one bottle of water a day. They had to sleep on the ground.
"It wasn't bad. It was cooler on the ground. It was actually almost comfortable. When you're that tired it doesn't matter where you sleep," he said.
The first time he went to Iraq, the people were glad to see them.
"They loved us, as long as they weren't Saddam loyalists," he said.
Although the rules of engagement changed frequently, they were told that if there were two or more Iraqi armed men together to engage them, or if they were wearing black pajamas or green armbands. The clothes the Iraqis wore to distinguish themselves as Saddam loyalists changed, so the rules had to change to accommodate them.
Bennett proved himself to be a brave and selfless Marine. Here is part of a letter sent April 25, 2003, to his mother from Bennett's platoon commander, Matt Danner :
"During one battle, near the city of Al-Basra, the unit your son was with was attacked by an enemy force, armed with automatic weapons and RPGs. The mortar section halted to fire, and your son went forward to place the aiming stake. Because the area was paved over, there was no way for him to sink the stake and return to the line, and safety. He immediately laid down and held the stake by hand. Although still receiving rifle and RPG fire, and unable to return fire because his hands were occupied, he remained in position throughout the action. It was a silly but magnificently brave thing to do, and I've recommended him for a medal to recognize his valor."
By the second and third deployment, the Iraqi people were getting tired of the American interference and were not as friendly, Bennett said.
The last time he was stationed in Iraq things had improved for the troops. He lived in a compound across the river from Fullajah for seven months. They had air conditioning, showers, and generators and watched DVDs on little TVs.
They lost six men on his first deployment, three on the second and none on the last. Bennett was never wounded.
"The experience of being in a different country and seeing other cultures," was the best thing about his time in Iraq he said.
"The food, heat and not being very clean," were the worst things.
Bennett believes in what the American military is doing.
"We're doing everything we can to get them back on their feet and get everything running, but since that culture has three different religious groups they can't get along. You can't just go to another country and destroy its government and leave it that way," he said.
Bennett's platoon commander rewarded him for his leadership and hard work. Here is part of a letter sent by Danner to Bennett's father in 2004:
"He serves as a section leader, directing the efforts of half the platoon. Normally, this is a job for a Staff Sergeant (2 whole ranks higher than Corporal), but work ethic, integrity, and tremendous sense of duty more than make up for any lack of experience."
Bennett plans to find a good technical school, where he can study fiber optics.