Eric Benken was born on August 20, 1951, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on March 18, 1970, and was trained as an administrative specialist. His first assignment was with the 2578th Supply Squadron at Ellington AFB, Texas, from May to December 1970, followed by service with the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing at Ching Chuan Kang AB, Taiwan, from January 1971 to March 1972. During this time, Sgt Benken deployed to Vietnam and served with Detachment 1 of the 834th Air Division at Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam. He next served as chief clerk for the 67th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron and then noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) for the Director of Operations Administration of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, from April 1972 to September 1978. Sgt Benken was executive noncommissioned officer to the commander of the 314th Air Division at Osan AB, South Korea, from October 1978 to October 1979, and then served as NCOIC for the Deputy Commander for Resources Administration and NCOIC of 12th Air Force Command Section at Bergstrom AFB from November 1979 to August 1983. His next assignment was as chief of the Administration Communications Division and NCOIC for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Aircrew Training Devices Administration at the U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB, Florida, from September 1983 to December 1988, followed by service as superintendent of the Manpower and Document Control Division in the Office of the U.S. National Military Representative and administrative officer for the Assistant Chief of Staff for the Operations and Logistics Division of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe at Mons, Belgium, from January 1989 to July 1993. Chief Benken was the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Commander of 12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, from August 1993 to September 1994, and then served as Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Ramstein AB, Germany, from October 1994 to October 1996. He served as the 12th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force from November 5, 1996, until his retirement from the Air Force on November 1, 1999.
His Air Force Distinguished Service Medal Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, awards the Distinguished Service Medal to Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Eric W. Benken for exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility. Chief Benken distinguished himself as Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Office of the Chief of Staff, Headquarters United States Air Force, the Pentagon, Washington, District of Columbia, from 6 November 1996 to 31 October 1999. His unparalleled leadership and tremendous concern for the enlisted men and women of the United States Air Force led to numerous positive initiatives that will have enduring impact. He joined the Chief of Staff in providing impassioned and persuasive testimonies before Congressional committees that were instrumental in increasing military compensation and quality of life initiatives, to include military pay raises, pay table reform, and a proposal to repeal the 1986 Redux Retirement System. He strongly battled opposition to gender-integrated training through congressional testimony and constant media input, insisting that Air Force women should have the same opportunity to train for military service as their male counterparts, thus preserving twenty-three years of progress. Chief Benken placed a strong focus on the professional development of the enlisted force resulting in the implementation of professional development seminars across the entire Air Force. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Chief Benken culminate a distinguished career in the service of his country and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.