Pilot returns to 554 RHS

  • Published
  • By Airman Breanna Gossett
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs


What started out to be nothing but red dirt and jungle in 2006 is now the home of the 554th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt Mario Benavides, RQ-4 Pilot assigned to the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron, was one of the first Airmen to break ground and begin construction at North West Field, Guam. He is now back almost 16 years later on temporary duty travel as a launch and recovery pilot with the 4th Reconnaissance Squadron.

Benavides joined the Air Force in January 2006 as an electrical power production journeyman where his job was to maintain the generators at NWF, which was important because at the time this was their only source of electrical power. He was later on tasked to work with structures to help prepare materials to assemble the first concrete wall. Along with working with structures, Benavides was also tasked with driving fuel trucks loaned out by Andersen Air Force Base, Guam,  to refuel any heavy construction equipment needed to build NWF.

“The moment that stands out to me the most was when that first wall went up,” said Benavides. “I remember there was an enormous crane that lifted the wall and many of us were there making sure it was placed where it needed to go.”

Guam was Benavides first duty station and like many other Airmen at their first duty station, Benavides’s focus was to learn his job and how it fit within the scope of Air Force civil engineering and more specifically the unique mission set of the 554 RHS.

“It was very different because most people when they get to their first base, they go to a squadron that’s already established and they know the office they’re gonna report to,” said Benavides. “For us, we just showed up to a construction site and picked up our tools and worked all day.”

The days were long and working at NWF felt like being deployed for Benavides, but the interpersonal relationships within the squadron were the best he had ever seen.

It has always been a thought of Benavides to come back to the 554 RHS to see what has become of the squadron over the years and being able to see what was once just dirt and a jungle, to now what has become a fully functioning squadron has left him speechless.

“NWF turned out way better than I imagined,” said Benavides. “I knew that there would be some buildings here and there but what is out there now is beyond words. I felt that all of that work was more than worth it.”

Since being stationed in Guam in 2006, Benavides has taken every career progression opportunity thrown his way such as deploying multiple times, retraining as a paralegal, recruiting for the Air Force and commissioning as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft pilot.While stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, with the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron, Benavides had been deploying every year.

“Although I like deploying, we had six month dwellings,” said Benavides. “Six months home, six months gone.”

He felt that he needed a change of pace and as a first term Airman there was a good opportunity for him to retrain into another career field as long as he was within the retraining window.

“Paralegal caught my eye because it was not necessarily just office work, but you’re actually involved in administrative actions and discharges,” said Benavides.

Although this opportunity was available for Benavides, it did not come with ease. Retraining into the paralegal career field came with a few extra steps compared to most other AFSCs. He had to complete a face-to-face interview with the base law office superintendent and create a package for their reviewing before submitting his request for retraining to the Air Force.

 “What really interested me about the job was learning The Uniform Code of Military Justice, military justice system and overall the administrative part of the Air Force,” said Benavides.

During his deployment in Al Udeid, Benavides was chosen to be a recruiter in Provo, Utah for almost three years through the Developmental Special Duty program. Being a recruiter opened a lot of doors for Benavides and gave him the time to complete his degree and submit a package for Officer Training School. 

Benavides attended OTS in January 2019 at the age of 35 with 13 years of enlisted service under his belt. At first he thought he was a little behind due to his age but he knew that his enlisted experience wouldn't fail him.

“I felt that I was ready to take on any and all challenges and that my years as an enlisted Airman prepared me for whatever came next,” said Benavides.

Throughout his career, Benavides had one motivating factor in mind to keep him going every day and help him look forward to contributing to the mission in new and innovative ways.

“Never settle for where you are now,” said Benavides. “Focus on where you want to be.”

With the amount of transformation Benavides has put into his career, his eagerness to strive for more is what keeps the Air Force mission alive. 

“One thing I like to say is fear of the unknown is the cornerstone of faith,” said Benavides. “Take it and run because you never know what other doors that opportunity is going to open for you.”