Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (Ret.)
Community College of the Air Force, Alabama
Eric Benken joined the Air Force on a whim. Stuck in traffic, he saw an Air Force recruitment poster. The 18-year-old Benken turned to his mother and said "I want to get out of Houston, Texas."
That choice, and hard work, helped him see the world and rise to the rank of top enlisted person in the United States Air Force. Benken served as Chief Master Sergeant from November 1996 to November 1999. He was an advocate for the 300,000 enlisted men and women in the Air Force and 200,000 reservists in the Air National Guard. Benken advised the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense on health and welfare matters.
The Community College of the Air Force was created in 1972 to offer technical education along with general education courses in accredited degree programs to the men and women in the Air Force. It is the largest multi-campus community college in the world with 118 Air Force-affiliated schools in 35 states, the District of Columbia, six foreign locations and one territory.
Until the 1980s, it was thought by many in the Air Force that taking college courses would be a distraction. But senior personnel came to realize that taking classes while serving full-time built skills and character, because of the discipline required to balance school, work and family responsibilities. Now, a Community College of the Air Force degree has practically become a requirement for senior promotions.
As one of only 12 people to hold this post, Benken retains his ties to Air Force even after retirement. He travels extensively to represent and speak on behalf of the Air Force.