Finding purpose, perspective

Medic's service in Iraq led her to choose
a life of healing

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Spc. Holly Bebout, a reservist with the 478th Combat Engineer Battalion, with (from left) sister Stacie Bebout, mother Charlene Bebout, soon-to-be brother-in-law Nathan Hobbs, sister Deb Bebout (about to be Hobbs), and father Tom Bebout.
Glenn Hartong photo
MONTGOMERY - Tom and Charlene Bebout can laugh about it now, sitting at the dinner table and listening to their 23-year-old daughter tell stories from her stint as a soldier in Iraq.

A makeshift Easter dinner in the Kuwaiti desert, with Spc. Holly Bebout playing the Easter Bunny.

An Iraqi boy snatching Powerpuff Girls sunglasses out of Holly's pocket and running off down a dusty road with the sunglasses perched on his head.

"I'll never forget that kid's face,'' says Holly, a medic with the 478th Combat Engineer Battalion, Army Reserve. "He had this look on his face, like 'Look at me, I'm living in this pit of hell and I've got Powerpuff sunglasses. Life is good.' "

They all laugh - Holly's parents, her sister, Staci; and Erin Nicole, Holly's best friend from the 478th - sitting around the dinner table in Montgomery on a recent evening. But a year ago, the idea of Holly being halfway around in the world in the middle of a war did not seem so funny to Tom, Charlene, Staci or another sister, Deb.

"We had some grim times, worrying about her constantly,'' says her father, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. "The only thing we could hold on to was that we knew she was well-trained, that she was with a good outfit."

Her grandfather, Paul Bebout of McConnellsville, Ohio, has seen war - he was one of the 101st Airborne Division's "Screaming Eagles" who spent Christmas 1944 under siege in Bastogne, surrounded by Nazis until Gen. George Patton's army could break through and free them.

"I can't say that it ever occurred to me that I would have a granddaughter going to war," Paul says. "But I am as proud of her as I can be."

Paul went to the 478th's headquarters in Fort Thomas in August when the unit returned and gave Holly a present - a sweatshirt with a picture of the two of them, he in his World War II uniform, Holly in her desert camouflage.

Tom and Charlene Bebouts' customers at their Landen drapery shop constantly brought in snacks, magazines, baby wipes and other items for the Bebouts for Holly and her fellow soldiers.

"We got more packages from home than you could imagine,'' Holly says. "Immense amounts of cookies."

Her war duty was not a lark. Holly saw live fire in southern Iraq, endured Scud missile alerts in Kuwait, dealt with sand storms and 130-degree heat, and dressed the wounds of Marines.

Six years ago, Holly was a senior at Sycamore High School and into a grunge phase.

"She had the dog collar, the white make-up, the black clothes,'' Charlene Bebout recalls. "When she joined the reserves, we were just floored."

Holly says she chose the military reserves because she had no interest then in college, and because her father and grandfather had served.

The 478th trained her as a medic, one of the few non-combat jobs available to women in the engineering unit. Suddenly, the young woman who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life found a calling: medicine.

Today, Holly lives with her parents and has applied to several colleges to study to become a physician's assistant. She works at Jewish Hospital Kenwood and part-time in the Christ Hospital emergency room.

"I grew a lot over there," Holly says. "It helped me figure out what I want to do with my life."

Holly recently arrived at her parents' drapery shop, "fuming mad." What was wrong? She had been standing in line at a Starbucks and a woman in front of her complained loudly that her latte wasn't any good.

"(Holly) said, 'People yelling about bad lattes, don't they understand there are people in the world with real problems?' " Charlene says. "She's seen a lot in her young life."

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