Soldier back home in PA after fifth deployment to Middle East

York, PA — While Seth Benge was serving in Afghanistan in 2010, his wife, Elizabeth, grew her hair out.

She waited until he returned to get it cut. Then she donated some of her hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children who have long-term hair loss because of a medical condition.

Seth Benge and his wife Elizabeth stand for a portrait in their Red Lion home. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - CHRIS DUNN)

Seth Benge and his wife Elizabeth stand for a portrait in their Red Lion home. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS – CHRIS DUNN)

Elizabeth followed the same plan for Seth’s latest deployment to Kuwait.

“Any other ones he’ll go on, I’ll do it again,” she said. “…It’s just something kind of fun for me to do.”

Seth arrived in Kuwait in December. He returned home to his wife and children in Red Lion Wednesday. The day after he returned, Elizabeth said she was planning

to get a hair cut in the next few weeks.

Challenging deployments

The Kuwait deployment was Seth Benge’s fifth to the Middle East, and his third since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Benge, a first lieutenant who turned 40 on Saturday, enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1990 and left the military in 1997.

Duirng that time, Benge had his first two Middle East deployments, including one to Kuwait two years after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and a later one to Bahrain.

He was out of the military until 2003, when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

He said the three post-9/11 deployments each had challenges.

Iraq

He went to Iraq in 2005, serving in Ramadi, as an enlisted solider working in a civil affairs unit. Benge spent a lot of time doing patrols, out on the streets.

“It was kind of a hairy time in Iraq,” he said.

It was a dangerous and physical deployment, Benge said.

“The challenge there was just kind of surviving,” he said.

After he came back from that deployment, he joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and became a commissioned officer.

Afghanistan

He volunteered to ship out with the Vermont National Guard for an Afghanistan deployment in 2010. It was his first deployment to the Middle East as a commissioned officer.

“Coming in from the outside into a unit and then being in control of a lot of different assets … that was the big challenge there,” he said.

Benge was stationed at Bagram Airfield in Parwan Province. He was a battle captain, an officer in charge of a unit when a battalion commander isn’t around.

He said he worked in the kind of room you’d see on TV-with a bunch of screens and video feeds coming in. When patrols went out, he was part of the group that tracked them and sent air support, if needed.

Kuwait

For the Kuwait deployment, Benge was part of a brigade that conducted base operations and security missions on military installations that support operations throughout the Middle East.

He was the executive officer for a troop of about 120 soldiers in the southern half of Kuwait.

Benge’s troop provided security for the main base in the southern half of Kuwait, Camp Arifjan, and some smaller bases.

Those bases are mainly used as a transition point for people and supplies going to Afghanistan and elsewhere, he said.

He spent a lot of time dealing with logistics – making sure soldiers had enough supplies and dealing with vehicle maintenance.

Because of the draw down of troops that’s occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said troops in Kuwait were in a transition period while he was there.

“That was the biggest challenge, really, and that’s what we spent most of the time doing, just examining what we were doing on a daily basis and making sure it met up with what the mission required,” he said.

A taste of home

While Benge was in Kuwait, Elizabeth’s mother sent him a small Christmas tree. He Skyped with family members for the holiday.

Seth Benge and his wife Elizabeth first met at a museum function attended by Gerald and Betty Ford. The couple invited the former president and first lady to their wedding, and received this letter as a response.  (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - CHRIS DUNN)

Seth Benge and his wife Elizabeth first met at a museum function attended by Gerald and Betty Ford. The couple invited the former president and first lady to their wedding, and received this letter as a response. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS – CHRIS DUNN)

“We all opened our Christmas presents together,” Elizabeth said.

Benge’s wife and his two youngest children greeted him with balloons and posters at Fort Indiantown Gap Wednesday. His oldest daughter had to work.

He’s on leave until the middle of October.

On Thursday, he was still unpacking and doing laundry.

His to do list included buying a car to replace the one he sold before he left, doing some odds and ends around the house and spending time with my family.

“It’s nice to be home finally,” he said.

Returning

About 200 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers with the 1-104th Cavalry Squadron, 55th Armor Brigade, returned to their home armories at Fort Indiantown Gap, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday, said Staff Sgt. Ted Nichols, a spokesman with the Pennsylvania National Guard.

It was the seventh group from the 55th Armor Brigade to return home, according to Nichols.

The 55th conducted base operations and security missions on military installations used to support military operations throughout the Middle East, he said.

He said additional groups of Pennsylvania National Guard members from a variety of other units are scheduled to return over the next several weeks.

About Benge

Name: Seth Benge, first lieutenant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard

Age: 40

Home: Red Lion

Education: Business degree, Biola University in California

Profession: Former chief of staff for state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township. Benge said he’s basically been on active duty since his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. After returning home from that deployment, he worked full-time at Fort Indiantown Gap, preparing troops to be deployed.

He said he’s on leave until the middle of October. One option he’s considering is becoming a military technician, a person with dual status who works full-time for the National Guard as a federal employee.

Family: Wife, Elizabeth; children Jenna, Joe and Katina

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