Veteran Major bids farewell to army.1st Battalion the Royal

Best of luck Sir.

One of the longest-serving soldiers in the British Army retires next month after nearly 40 years in uniform.

Belfast-born Major Hugh Benson, 54, of 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment has served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Ireland as well as other trouble spots around the world.

The married father-of-four helped organise supplies to 1,800 troops as they invaded Iraq in 2003.

Commanding officer Lt Col Ed Freely said: "His integrity, wisdom and modesty make him an obvious sounding board for everyone from the lowest to the highest rank."

Major Benson, from the Shankill Road in west Belfast, joined the army in 1971 at the age of 16.

Lt Col Freely added: "Service of such length and of such consistent outstanding altruistic quality is rare indeed. It warrants and demands a significant reward.

"As a superlative servant of the British Army and his regiment for well over a third of a century Major Benson is most deserving of the highest public and national recognition."

In 1990 Major Benson was on a tour in Northern Ireland, based in Bessbrook, south Armagh, to collate intelligence.

He saw Royal Irish Ranger Cyril Smith killed when the IRA carried out a proxy-bomb attack on a vehicle checkpoint and he ran to warn others.

"His selflessness saved many of the rest of us that day," he added.

In 2003 he was involved in organising and maintaining supplies to 1,800 troops invading Iraq.

"I remember the night before we went in everyone was very quiet. People were apprehensive. We were just waiting for the button to be pressed to say we could cross over," he said.

He served alongside two of his sons in Iraq and three in Afghanistan in 2008.

His son Sam was injured on a night operation in Sangin, Afghanistan.

"I was sitting in a restaurant in Canterbury when I got the call and it was honestly the scariest moment of my military career," he said.

Other jobs included serving as a unit families` officer when the regiment was struck by infant deaths from meningitis and accidents.

Lt Col Freely said: "It was a very difficult time for the battalion but Major Benson was the lynchpin.

"He handled bereaved parents and suffering families with tack discretion and saint-like patience, often accommodating them in his own home."

Major Benson said his wife Jenny was glad he was leaving. He was self-deprecating about his achievements.

"A lot of it happened by default. I just worried about the rank that I was and the rest followed suit."

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