‘It’s the best kept secret’

Bentley Heyliger 

Bentley, born and raised in the projects of Manhattan, enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 19. He served in the infantry for 21 years out of his 39 years of service. During his service, he was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Freedom 2.1 for a little more than a year. Bentleys service, also led him to working Ground Zero, an experience that is hard to share.

For four years he served in the light infantry before he was promoted into communications due to an injury during a training exercise.

“I was in the unit for three months and the call came up. I volunteered to go (to Iraq). They needed someone in communication.”

Instead of doing communication, Bentley did transportation while deployed.

WWA-Tourney-and-Rods-215-copy

“It was a lot of fun. I was in charge of sending all the convoys up north into the battle. I was in Kuwait for maybe a couple of months and then I was part of the advance party and went into Iraq and started setting up. I was sending trucks to different places. I had my hands full. I had eight people with me, but it was my job to make sure everything was right.”

During that time, Bentley was working 18 hour days, sleeping a maximum of six hours.

The extreme temperatures were hard to adapt to, especially with temperatures reaching over 140 degrees after first arriving in Kuwait. Bentley had to remain in full gear walking the base, often times resulting in carrying around more than 100 pounds.

“Come July through the beginning of September the temperature goes from 140 to 160. When they said you can drop an egg on the ground and watch it fry, it worked.”

When the temperatures hit that high, the commanding generals limited their time on the fire base for no more than 30-mintues to an hour.

Unfortunately he saw first hand what could happen.

“There was an incident that reported one guy came on from a convoy. He was standing behind a gun ship and he was dead because of the heat. Dead. And no one knew. Just standing straight up, dead.”

Bentley was treated for heat exhaustion even though he refilled his water bag often and suffered an injury after falling 8 feet from his bunk while sleeping.

“They found me asleep on the floor of my tent. I don’t know what I was dreaming that night, but I hit the deck apparently with a loaded gun on my chest with the muzzle up near my chin. It didn’t go off, thank God.”

Deployments can be hard for a family, especially when leaving behind three children. He promised his family he would be okay and was able to Skype with his family often, which helped tremendously.

Bentley enjoyed serving his country, the camaraderie of being with all different walks of life and rubbing elbows with people from across the globe.

“I come from a poor black neighborhood. My skills are limited. As far as me making six figures, I knew I would never be able to do that. They are going to pay me, clothe me, feed me and give me medical attention, more education, a home, travel, whatever and all I have to do is show up in the morning and do what I have to do. It’s the best kept secret on the face of the planet.”

March 30, 2015, Bentley moved to SW FL in an attempt to escape the bitter cold of New York. He stumbled upon Wounded Warrior Anglers and instantly felt as if he was back in the military again.

“That is what I needed. The organization has been great. It’s a great group of guys. I am getting a lot out of it.”

The organization has been good for the veteran because fishing leaves Bentley completely relaxed – the only thought crossing his mind – “just catch the fish.”

“When you wake up in the morning, you are relieved and relaxed and you have no worries in the world.”

Even with pains and images that are sometimes hard to escape, Bentley remains positive, often times flashing a huge smile.


Photograph courtesy of Dorene Lowe Photography – a Southwest Florida photographer out of Punta Gorda, Florida. To view more of her photographs, visit https://www.facebook.com/dorenelowephotography, or to schedule a session, call (941) 467-5015.


Article written by Meghan McCoy, Wounded Warrior Anglers media director.