ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
The salty air pushed the boat like a knife through the cold Rhode Island bay as seagulls and the sound of waves crashing against the hull filled the harbor.
A 12 year-old girl commandeers the Bris de Mer – French for “summer breeze” – a 22-foot long sail boat that belongs to her mother, an avid sailor and competitor in speed sailing.
Skillfully maneuvering the vessel at the tiller, she navigates out of the harbor and into the open sea.
Just as she was the captain of that ship, she has been the master of her fate. Although, instead of the sea, she took to the sky.
When Staff Sgt. Jessica Benisch was in seventh grade, she joined the Civil Air Patrol with hopes to go to the United States Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot.
After graduating high school however, she decided to go to school for psychology. With only a year left before graduating with a bachelors in psychology, she enlisted into the Air Force.
“I was a little older than most Airmen who do,” said the non-commissioned officer in-charge of military justice assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing Legal Office. “I told myself that if I was going to join, I had to do it then. I’ve always wanted to join, so I knew I had to.”
Going into basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Benisch didn’t have a job assigned to her. When it came time to choose which career fields she would like, she selected judge advocate as her number one pick.
“Thankfully I got it,” said the Newport, Rhode Island, native. “There were a couple of interviews and it seemed like a good fit at the time during basic training. It was the best decision I could have made.”
She has been a paralegal for almost four years, assisting judge advocates with pre-trial, trial and post-trial court preparations and administrative work writing non-judicial punishments.
Then in Jan. of 2016, Benisch deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve.
“I volunteered to deploy,” Benisch said. “I wanted the broader picture, to go do something else and see the other aspects of the military outside of the legal office.”
While she was deployed, Benisch was selected as the recipient for the Castleman Award – recognizing her as the most outstanding paralegal Airman in Air Force Global Strike Command for 2015.
The award is in honor of retired Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Castleman, who served as the third senior paralegal manager to the judge advocate general and the only one to serve in the position for more than five years.
Even as Benisch was deployed, her leadership knew she was the right candidate for the award.
“She is an exceptional Airman,” said Lt. Col. Eric Cadotte, the staff judge advocate assigned to the 28th BW Legal Office. “Benisch is a dedicated and outstanding paralegal—she is amazing at everything she does, and I’m very proud of her accomplishments.”
Benisch was presented the award by Col. Gentry Boswell, commander of the 28th BW, on January 12, 2017.
Benisch doesn’t see her award as an individual achievement.
Similar to sailing with a partner, teamwork is critical to success. Whether it’s on the sea calling the boom, or sharing the workload in the office, she believes it’s a joint effort.
“It felt really good to be recognized,” Benisch said. “It’s a team effort in this office. We all work together, and I don’t think that anything I’ve done in this office or any recognition I’ve ever received is solely based on myself.”
This summer, Benisch plans on submitting her package to commission and hopes to serve the Air Force as an officer, her dreams and determination continuing to be the wind in her sails.