Alaska Vietnam Veteran Takes His Last Black Hawk Flight
Chief Warrant Officer David Benesch of Alaska Army National Guard retires
ANCHORAGE - The end of an era unfolded at Camp Denali on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson last month.
The last of the Vietnam War veterans to fly for the Alaska Army National Guard has retired.
After having served more than 40 years, Chief Warrant Officer David Benesch says he wouldn't have had it any other way.
His last flight soared over the majesty of Southcentral Alaska. But it is a long way from where David Benesch began.
After graduating from East High, he joined the Alaska National Guard.
After training, Benesch, like thousands of young men before him, was sent to the jungles of Vietnam, where he flew missions recovering shot-down attack helicopters and their crews.
“If you had to pick somebody up, a lot of times you would get shot at down there," Benesch said.
But his combat experience began on a fierier note.
"My first trip was spraying Agent Orange over a farmer's field at night… that was my first mission."
Since then, Benesch has flown thousands of hours – and finished countless missions – but sometimes even training held its own challenges, especially in Alaska.
"You’d get an eight-man tent and a Yukon stove and you'd live out there and be miserable for two weeks, you know, and the weird thing about that is after you got the Yukon stove up, the snow would melt off of the inside of the tent and all the mosquitoes would hatch and you would have nothing but mosquitoes in February and it would be 40 below outside," Benesch said.
But a lot has changed over the years.
"We have two engines on this. In the old days, when you lost an engine you were going down whether you wanted to or not… so now we've got two. It carries more weight, goes faster, it can go farther."
But no matter the new technology, a helicopter is only as good as it's pilot. And this stick jockey, even after more than a few wars, isn't looking back with sadness.
"It's a good way to see the world, and you are not just going over there to see some tourist stuff; you are going there to experience a bunch of stuff, and I've never been sorry."
His is the kind of experience that, like the sounds of a Black Hawk cresting a ridge, is fading from today's military, easing into the history books as younger soldiers continue the lessons learned from the unit's senior statesman.
It is a career that has forever changed the man, and his unit.
Benesch also flies for Era Aviation.