nickolas benson
8 min readMay 14, 2021

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“It was hot and grimy, now it’s a dusty haze, feels like we’ve been stuck here for at least a million days, our meals are Ready To Eat now, and also don’t complain, when you have to sleep on the hood of your truck in the cold, cold desert rain” — “The Truth Changed” lyrics (Benson)

GOING TO WAR

When Nickolas Benson’s trucking unit was deployed to the Persian Gulf, for the second Iraq war, no one could have imagined what the length of their stay would be, and no one’s life was more changed than Nickolas. The 740th deployed in February 2003, to Fort Carson, Colorado, made it to the Middle East in April, and logged well over 2 million miles, trucking equipment and supplies throughout Iraq and Kuwait. They returned home to South Dakota with a massive welcome home parade on August 1, 2004. After their 18 month tour of duty, every member of the 740th came home.

Camp Navistar, Kuwait, one mile from the Iraq border, is where Nickolas’ unit were tasked with 20 truck convoy missions into Iraq. A separate trucking unit brought loads up through Kuwait and drop their trailers for the 740th to take north. The most common missions would include, hauling to Baghdad International Airport, and military bases across Iraq.

BIRTH OF A SINGER/SONGWRITER

After 8 months in country, around Christmas 2003, Nickolas realized something he had to do. While his unit was working hard driving truck missions, there was still a decent amount of free time between them. Their tent city base had a small shop with acoustic guitars and now was the time for Nickolas to learn how to play, after years of fiddling around.

As a freshman in high school, Nickolas was encouraged by his band teacher, who told him he had a good ear for music. His stepfather was impressed enough, by hearing him try to play, that he bought him a proper guitar for Christmas. But that was years ago, the time was now. He bought his first acoustic guitar and began learning chords.

As 2003 came to a close, Nickolas was jamming and printing out sheet music to his favorite songs. Tenacious D’s “F**k Her Gently” was one of the first songs he learned, while he ate up the Rolling Stones’ catalog. Scores of musical influences shaped the Rock, Pop, Country, Blues sound he has today.

With a stack of sheet music six inches high, Nickolas entered 2004 on a different path. His earliest song book entries date back to November, writing songs before they became songs.

Then word came down that the 740th would be leaving country to return home in February. After surrendering all equipment, including 60 steel trucks and 120 trailers, to a unit from Ohio, they packed up and headed south.

Soon after arriving at their new tent city, near Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, the 740th learned that they would not be going home yet. They were a good trucking company and the military machine needed them to stay a little longer, even though they had given away all their equipment.

The news came, as the whole company stood in formation, with their packed belongings in front of them, ready for shipment back to the states. Replacing their old equipment, were 20 fiberglass bobtail trucks for 110 soldiers. Now, the time between missions would be monumental.

BLUE FALCON CASINO

Before the 740th left the states, Benson’s good friend, Jason Bain, had the foresight to buy all the necessary items to complete a blackjack table set. “Think about it,” he said, “everyone’s gonna have nothing better to do and money to spend.” Benson, as his partner, realized the opportunity being presented.

The Blue Falcon Casino was open for business anytime someone wanted to play and lose money. Gambling was not permitted, so they moved locations each time, to elude unwanted eyes. Bain said, “f**k hazardous and duty pay,” after one of their biggest nights, pulling in around five hundred bucks. Then Benson and Bain wrote a hit song that gained fame and infamy.

BLUE FALCON BAND

With a year of active duty behind them, Benson and his battle buddies couldn’t help but notice the events of a wartime setting. From cheating spouses, with loved ones back home, to promiscuous soldiers of any rank, showing no shame. There were also those who chose to stay in the background and not contribute as much as they should have. No one was exempt from criticism, and all were guilty of something.

“That’s Right, I Went there” was a staple on the Camp Arifjan performance stage. Typically, Benson played and sang solo, sometimes Bain performed too, and sometimes, their friend from an Iowa unit, Jesse Bianchi, would sit in on lead guitar. The Blue Falcons would always rearrange the last verse to accommodate whatever buzz was happening in reaction to their song. Myriad of other songs were penned during these months, and some made the performances.

Usual “all night hangouts” consisted of Benson playing chords and singing lead to Guns ’N’ Roses songs like “Patience” and “Used to Love Her.” Bianchi would play lead guitar, note for note. By the end, Benson had a full song book, and ended up recording 21 original songs from those pages.

Much video footage of the Blue Falcons’ stage performances were captured, along with the day to day of the 740th trucking missions. Nickolas’ goal was to get total coverage of his experience, purchasing a digital camera in the days leading up to their departure from America.

More than 13 hours of video, shot by Nickolas at war, offer great perspective, and content to go with his original music. Songs titled “The Heart of What Really Matters,” “Game of Change,” and “Living Never Breathing” were co-written with fellow soldiers.

The most meaningful original song, also describes the ultimate conflict the Blue Falcon Band of brothers faced. “See You Soon” was co-written with Iowa soldier, Kyle Taylor, five days before they returned home.

“The place you leave behind, makes you walk away, the place you’re meant to find, makes you wanna stay” — “See You Soon” lyrics (Benson/Taylor)

“See You Soon” music video link: https://youtu.be/EoyxIQNzJwI

EXTENDED AGAIN

By spring time, the Blue Falcon Band of brothers were deep into their routine. It consisted of waking up by 11 am in a pool of sweat, heading into Camp Arifjan to take advantage of the gym for a couple hours, then returning, to play guitars and party all night.

Sometimes there would be booze received by mail, booze acquired from missions north, or $2 dollar bottles of cough syrup from the Camp Arifjan Post Exchange. Always plenty of smoking with the Army’s “hurry up and wait” style already, was now “hurry up and smoke.”

The second extension hit in the dark of night, pushing their projected stay well into the summer. The talk of soldier retention, that had already started, turned now to “prisoners of war” for a laugh.

Some silver lining came in the form of available tent city real estate. Benson and four other soldiers, moved across camp, into a large new tent. Sometime after their improved housing arrangement, a billiards table was acquired from a unit, about to leave country.

The Blue Falcon Casino now had a place to call home, and the all night parties could be better contained, for now.

The five man tent of outcasts or Blue Falcons if you will, was now the place to be. It all came to a head one night, when someone decided to smoke inside the vinyl tent, prompting leadership to pay a visit.

This was the party of parties, good people doing bad, and everyone was drinking. From that point on, leadership made everyone open their packages from back home, in front of them for inspection. To pass inspection, friends and family would send booze in shampoo bottles, to keep the party going.

STARS AND STRIPES

Benson recalls 23 days, as the longest period he went without a proper shower. Sure there were wet wipes and baby powder, but that was never enough for blowing sand in 130 degree summer heat.

Returning from this mission on a Friday evening, Benson still had time to make it to Camp Arifjan’s performance stage, where an Independence Day Talent Show, featuring troops, was kicking off. Not expecting to make it back in time, Benson now had something he had to do again, play the hit.

A Blue Falcon skeleton crew, sweaty and gross from the road, made their way to the performance stage, once again. Benson would play solo this time, with an electric guitar from backstage. When his turn to put on a show came, he played the song that had been gaining momentum for months now.

“That’s Right, I Went There” on electric guitar, a true Springsteen moment. The crowd went wild, while the judges voted against the clear crowd favorite. No honors being awarded to Benson, aka Blue Falcon, caused crowd members to chant for a recount.

Benson understood well, the song’s content, may not sit right with everyone. The military newspaper, Stars And Stripes’ reporter, Fred Zimmerman, approached Nickolas to do a story on the performance.

He had already interviewed soldiers in the crowd, who mentioned the Blue Falcon, as their favorite of the night. The real win, was landing a page 5 story in the Stars And Stripes’ July 4th issue, Middle East Edition.

Nickolas Benson performs at the Independence Day Talent Show, in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

GOING HOME

A month later, every 740th soldier returned home, virtually unscathed. They lost 6 of their 20 replacement trucks to roadside bombs. A Purple Heart was awarded to one soldier, for taking shattered windshield glass to the face, who made a complete recovery.

The story of the 740th runs deeper than one article or song could tell, but with Benson’s original music, actual video footage, and original screenplay, it will live on forever.

DESERT DOGS link: https://soundcloud.com/nickolasbenson/sets/desert-dogs-lp

Artwork: DESERT DOGS LP

© 2021–2026 DESERT DOGS. Blue Falcon Entertainment, LLC.

DESERT DOGS is registered with the Writer’s Guild of America.

All rights reserved.

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