By Trisha Gallaway
Joint Base Charleston
JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., April 1, 2011 - On Feb. 23, 1991, Army Pfc. Roy Bentley was in Saudi Arabia serving with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment as an armored crewman when the ground war began during Operation Desert Storm.
"The 2nd Cavalry was the spearhead for the 7th Corps movement into Iraq" during Desert Storm, Bentley said. "We were the lead unit for the right hook. The cavalry is the eyes and ears of the corps."
Bentley remained on active duty with the Army until July 1992, when he then joined the Army National Guard and used his GI Bill benefits to go to college. In 1998, he was accepted into the Air Force's Officer Training School, and he began pilot training in 1999.
Today, Bentley is a C-17 instructor pilot assigned to the 17th Airlift Squadron here. He is deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, one of three locations where the squadron is based during this deployment rotation.
The air mobility mission has played a key role in operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. While deployed, the squadron is providing airlift for troops and passengers, military equipment, cargo and aeromedical airlift. It also conducts missions involving the airland or airdrop of troops, equipment and supplies to warfighters in austere locations.
As someone who has been on both sides of the coin, Bentley said, he knows how important the air mobility mission is and what it can mean to the warfighter on the ground.
"At the end of the ground war in 1991, the supply line was stretched, and we were without our normal rations for three weeks," he said. "We did have Chef Boyardee Beefaroni as a meal supplement to our normal meals ready to eat. When the MREs ran out, it was Beefaroni for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I haven't eaten it since."
While the mission is certainly different this time around for Bentley, he has a true appreciation for the service members who are on the ground.
"I can relate to the men and women I am dropping off and picking up in theater," he said. "I understand that all the supplies we deliver are sorely needed by the people on the ground. I take great pride in moving the troops around theater, taking the time to talk with them and encouraging them during their deployment."
Looking back on his deployment during the Gulf War, Bentley said his time in a tank was much different from time in a C-17.
"Life in a tank was better than life on the ground," he said. "We had a place to eat, sleep and stay protected. There wasn't too much to worry about in a tank, except another tank."
So how is time spent in a C-17 different?
"Life on the C-17 is nice. We have a working toilet onboard, and at every stop you can find a place to shower," he said. "Not taking a shower for six months is not an experience I want to repeat. I always tell the guys that I have had my Air Force appreciation tour. No matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone out there who has it worse."
During this current deployment, Bentley is the Detachment 2 commander for the squadron at Manas and has been flying with two of the squadron's newest pilots.
"Being able to pass on my know-how and developing the skills of those younger airmen has been rewarding," Bentley said.
Just as it was by chance that Bentley landed in Kuwait 20 years to the day of the start of the ground war in Operation Desert Storm, he's also leaving in the same fashion.
"I was redeployed to Germany in May 1991, and I'm slated to return to Charleston in May 2011," he said.
Bentley's fellow airmen at Manas couldn't let this milestone pass without a few good-natured jabs.
"I was the young guy during the first Gulf War," he said. "The young guys [here] keep reminding me that I am the old man this time around."