Discover more from The View from the Front. By Stan R. Mitchell.
Veteran spotlight: Lt. Col. Keith Benoit
As part of my continuing efforts to honor veterans, I recently interviewed Lt. Col. Keith Benoit.
Benoit went from enlisted soldier to Army officer to pilot and commander, having served numerous deployments over nearly 30 years. Read on for plenty of wisdom and inspiration, the kind you can only get from a man who has served in both the enlisted and officer ranks.
Where were you born? (And/or what was your hometown?)
When did you serve and where? Also rank attained.
Lieutenant Colonel (still serving). I was enlisted for 7 years, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant as a Mortar Infantryman (11C) at Fort Benning and Fort Drum. I received a Green to Gold scholarship and commissioned in 2003 as an Aviation officer.
I have served in Infantry, Aviation, Cavalry, and Special Operations units over the last 28 plus years. I initially flew the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and have transitioned to the AH-64 Apache for the last 6 years. I have served as an officer at Fort Rucker, Fort Bragg. Fort Stewart, Fort Irwin, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the National Captial Region. I am slated to take Squadron Command next year of an Air Cavalry Squadron.
What’s it like to fly an Apache? They have such an awesome reputation.
It's an amazing machine, drives like a sportscar. The aircraft is a dream to fly and the men and women on the ground that support us are the best in the business.
Who was your childhood hero?
My childhood heroes growing up were my father and two grandfathers. My dad never served in the military but worked outside in the rain and snow daily as a telephone repairman to give us the best life he could. My grandfathers both served; one in the Engineers as a Higgins boat driver, participating in numerous amphibious landings to include Leyte Gulf, and the other served in Japan immediately after the war in the occupation forces
What made you want to join up?
Honestly, I joined for the college money. I initially enlisted in the National Guard and went to college for a year. I wasn't ready for college quite yet and left to join active duty because I enjoyed it so much. The more I served, the more I liked it and here we are today almost three decades later.
Tell us some of the big lessons you learned from serving.
The biggest lesson I have learned, and I definitely learned it over time, is that you cannot do it alone. Treat others as you would like to be treated and you will develop networks, relationships, and support systems that will last a lifetime.
The Army of today is not the Army I joined all those years ago, and I believe it is better now, hands down. I have also learned that the last 20 years of combat have changed us as a force; some for good, some not so good. I have been open and honest about my struggles with PTSD from five combat deployments with everyone I serve alongside.
I encourage them to seek out help whenever they need it as I know it certainly helped me. I'm in a great place now, but am always aware that can change at any time. Everyone needs to look out for each other and for themselves. Finally, if you take care of your people and truly put them first, the mission will always take care of itself.
What was your most harrowing experience, that you’re willing to share? (This can be a training event, as I think most civilians aren’t aware of how dangerous even peacetime service can be.)
My most harrowing event occurred while serving in Iraq during my most recent combat tour. Coming back from a mission, we had an issue with the aircraft in flight that caused us to lose all indications in the cockpit in zero illumination over some not very friendly countryside. We made the decision to keep flying and about 30 seconds before we landed, every warning bell and whistle went off in the cockpit.
It was great to feel the solid ground underneath us once we landed. We laughed because all the times we were shot at and avoided being shot down, it was going to be a mechanical malfunction that got us in the end! Anytime I have to jump out of a plane is a close second... I am afraid of heights.
What do you wish those who have never served better understood?
The American public, for the most part, is extremely supportive of our men and women in uniform and that is appreciated, especially given the fact this was not always the case in recent times (Vietnam).
If I had to choose one thing, it would be that men and women in uniform come home with issues that aren't always visible on the surface. Sometimes they want to tell their story, not because they want to brag, but because it is therapeutic to do so. Listen to veterans of all eras, combat or not, and allow them to tell their stories. It will help to bridge the civil-military divide that exists today.
Are there any service members that you know, or served with, that you’d like to honor their sacrifice by naming?
I had the honor or serving alongside some amazing men and women, some of whom didn't make it home. Among these, SFC Keith Callahan, CPT Erick Foster, CPT Matt Mattingly, and SFC Seth Fancher stand out in my mind. Each of them left an indelible mark on my life and I wouldn't be where I am without them.
Tell me the most heroic thing you ever saw, if you can.
Serving in Iraq in 2007, we were in close quarters with the enemy and they lobbed a grenade in our direction. One of the soldiers with us picked it up and lobbed it back seconds before it exploded. It happened so fast nobody realized what happened. It was probably the craziest thing I've ever witnessed.
Share with us a story of a leader who inspired you while you served.
It is difficult to pick out just one leader who has inspired me during my career. If I had to pick one, it would be SFC Keith Callahan. We served together in the 82 Airborne Division and he was killed in Iraq in 2007. When he died, he died leading from the front.
We had just had a long talk the night before the mission as we were both from Massachusetts and the Patriots had just blown the AFC Championship game in 2007. I was in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) when the call came in and was devastated to hear his name. He inspired everyone around him, officers and enlisted alike, to be better and challenged us every single day. I am glad I still have the privilege of serving in his memory and do everything I can each day to try and live up to the standards he left behind.
What do you wish for the country?
Honestly I hope we can come together. Being a military officer I do not publicly subscribe to any political party and have served under five Presidents during my time. There are always bad actors throughout the world that would seek to do us harm. The only way we combat that is to stick by one another.
Any closing thoughts or anything you’d like to add?
I have had a very unique Army experience thus far. I have served as a ground commander, a planner in special operations, and as an aviator in combat. There is no one path to success. Do the best you can in whatever you are doing and the results will take care of themselves. Take care of your people, be honest, do your best, and know it is a privilege to serve each and every day.
One other thing I’d like to do before ending the interview is highlight our support folks.
They actually own the aircraft and we just borrow it for a little bit. They do everything from washing it up to fixing it when we break it....which is often. They are amazing people.
And in an Apache, it's thankless because unlike in a Blackhawk, they don't fly in the back. But they are always anxiously awaiting our return to hear what we shot because without them we wouldn't even get them off the ground.
I wanted to thank Lt. Col. Keith Benoit for sharing his story.
I really enjoy the veteran interview posts for several reasons. First, I feel the public remains mostly unaware about the sacrifices military members have made (and are continuing to make).
Secondly, veterans aren’t good at sharing their experiences, and I’ve had vets tell me afterward that they had direct family members express surprise after reading the interviews at some of the places the veterans had been and some of the things they had done.
Finally, I appreciate the opportunity to put a fallen vet’s name into the internet world so that their names are always searchable and less likely to be forgotten. (This is something I try to do with a Marine my company lost during a training exercise.)
Enough about the interviews. If you know a veteran that I could interview, please reach out to me at email@example.com. I would love to feature them on my site. As a general rule, one that HASN’T been broken yet, they will NEVER ask for themselves. So, please, consider nominating someone to me. I’ll be happy to reach out to them and twist any arms.
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And I do all of this from a moderate perspective that focuses on unity in our country.
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Stan R. Mitchell
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