NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The 12th Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Eric Benken, visited here July 19 touring facilities and speaking to Airmen who have been affected by decisions he made during his time in the position from 1996-1999.
The retired chief master sergeant was asked to serve as a guest speaker at a ceremony honoring Nellis AFB’s newest senior noncommissioned officers and took the opportunity to tour the base, learn about its various missions and meet with Airmen whom he considers “his extended family.”
“Any day that I can spend with Airmen is a great day,” said Benken, who retired in 1999 after 29 years of service. “To come out here and see their skills, their dedication and their professionalism continues to be an incredible opportunity; it always was.”
As Benken helped change the direction of the force from a Cold War mindset to an expeditionary focus, he saw the need to train Airmen to adapt to austere environments. He ensured funding for the establishment of a simulated deployed location at Lackland AFB, Texas, which all trainees visit during “BEAST Week” where, according to the official Air Force website, skills and tactics learned in BMT are tested in realistic field training exercises and combat scenarios.
“We found that we were not configured properly to meet the continuing demands of deployments,” Benken said. “Switching over to an expeditionary Air Force was a major cultural change because up until that time we had been primarily an in-garrison force.”
Calls for change were coming from other sources as well. Benken and other Air Force leaders resisted multiple congressional attempts to end gender-integration at Basic Military Training. Under plans proposed by some members of Congress, the Air Force would have returned to past methods of training males and females on separate sides of Lackland AFB.
“We were able to fight back on that, and in the end we won the day,” Benken said.
The retired chief also took time to visit the Airman Leadership School to speak to Nellis’ newest generation of leaders. During the visit, Benken discussed personal experiences as well as the three qualities he sees in a good Airman; discipline, standards and teamwork.
“The tools of our trade are lethal; people can get hurt,” he said, quoting former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman. “So it’s imperative that we hold ourselves to a higher standard at all times.”
Benken saw some of Nellis’ best. From the ongoing F-35 Lightning II program to the 99th Logistics Readiness Squadron Fuels Management Flight that was recently named the Air Force’s best.
“I’d just like to thank team Nellis for the opportunity, it’s obvious that there is some great leadership here,” Benken said. “The Airmen are thriving here and doing some great things.”