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Teacher, soldier ready to help Afghan farmers
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Sgt. Carmen Benson, an agriculture teacher at South Effingham Middle School, is going to Afghanistan as a soil specialist with the Georgia Guard’s first Agricultural Development Team. - photo by Photo provided
CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER—When Sgt. Carmen Benson of Rincon walked into a Georgia Army Guard recruiting office five years ago, the recruiter pointedly asked her, “How do you feel about playing in the dirt?” 
“That’s because I have a Bachelors degree in agriculture education from the University of Georgia, and I teach ag science to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at South Effingham Middle School in Guyton,” Benson said. “I told the recruiter, ‘I do it every day with my students. It’s who I am.’ So he signed me up as a technical engineer.”
Having this military occupational skill (MOS) landed her in Augusta’s 877th Engineer Company. Her job, at the time, was to execute land surveys, make maps and prepare detailed plans and drawings for construction projects. Benson also supervised or participated in construction site development, to include technical investigation, surveying, drafting, and development of construction plans and specifications.  
Additionally, she can provide surveys and maps used to locate military targets and plot troop movements. 
“Another thing my MOS does is assist in field and laboratory tests on construction materials,” Benson said. “Those construction surveys my job skill does come before and during construction so equipment operators and others can do their jobs. We also compile technical information for future use.”
The other thing she liked about being with the 877th was the work it did as the search and extraction element of Kennesaw’s Joint Task Force 781, the Georgia National Guard’s disaster response team. She and her fellow soldiers, she said, go into a disaster scene, searching the rubble and dilapidated structures for victims. 
“I felt my skills as a technical engineer would certainly come in handy for pulling people out and getting them to safety,” Benson said. “But with the restructuring of the unit not long ago, I found myself looking at acquiring another MOS.”
Knowing that she wants to stay an engineer, she decided on the job skill of heavy equipment operator. 
“I like having control of something as big a bulldozer, for example,” Benson said. “And I’m still playing in dirt, just doing it with a bigger shovel.”
While she has put in a lot of time doing on-the-job training in her new MOS, she still has to attend advanced individual training — likely at Fort
Leonard Wood, Mo. However, that will not happen, she says, until she returns from her first deployment. 
Although the 877th is her parent unit, and it recently deployed for a year of construction work at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Benson is not going with her fellow engineers. She is going to Afghanistan, she said, as a soil specialist with the Georgia Guard’s first Agricultural Development Team. 
Composed of soldiers with agriculture and combat arms backgrounds from across the state, Georgia’s ADT Team — which falls under Augusta’s 201st Regional Support Group — is the first of three such teams that will deploy to help Afghan farmers and farming communities build better lives through basic, more-modern agricultural practices. 
“Anything related to soil, soil conservation, or anything of that sort, the team will bring to me,” Benson said.  “But I believe the leadership is also going to rely on my agricultural education and experience for teaching the Afghan children basic agricultural principles in irrigation and horticulture, for example.”
Benson says she is especially thrilled about finally putting her passion for agriculture and her civilian education to work for the military. 
“I love what I do, especially what I do with my students here at home,” Benson said with a smile. “Helping the Afghans, children and adults alike, become better farmers, better stewards of their land, is — without a doubt — absolutely perfect for me.”