<b>SACRAMENTO, Calif. </b> - A 12-month deployment to Iraq can be difficult. Fifteen to 18 months even more strenuous. But 32 months' A bit tiring according to Penny Coulon, but "I'm hoping to go back within the year," she says with a smile.

Penny Coulon has been with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District for the last five years, working as a maintenance worker at Lake Kaweah, Calif. But she's only physically worked there for less than two years. That's because, for the last 32 months - plus 5 months in 2006, for a total of 37 months - she has been deployed with the Corps of Engineers to Baghdad, Iraq.

"I like learning new things, meeting new people...and to help, of course," Coulon said about her deployments. Her first deployment was from July 2006 to November 2006, the second from July 2007 to March 2010.

The Navy veteran said she had great experiences working with Iraqis and others at the multi-national base where she was stationed, even though she expected complications before departing.

"When I went in 2006, I had heard that for women it was kind of hard working with the Iraqi men over there," said Coulon. "But being on base, they had kind of worked with Americans for a little while now, and they were more open to working with females."

"The people I was working with, those guys were great."

During the majority of her deployment, Coulon worked on operations and maintenance contracts, overseeing minor construction projects on base. She's already begun incorporating some of that experience at Lake Kaweah.

"Just from this past tour, I have come back and implemented some stuff at work," she said. "We're doing some things that my boss actually said, 'I might not let you leave this time.'"

"Some of the computer things I've learned and some of the construction things I've learned, it's been beneficial," she said.

Coulon acknowledges the downside to deployment: the danger of being in a combat zone, the long work hours and being away from family.

"The long hours are something we typically don't work here," said Coulon. "Seven days a week and 12 hour days.

"Being away from your family - that's probably the hardest thing," she said.

At the end of the day, deploying, "it really wasn't bad," said Coulon. "There's always opportunities to learn. The benefits to me far outweigh the negatives.

"You learn things that you have never learned seeing on TV or in a book."

Page last updated Mon July 26th, 2010 at 13:29