KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — When she joined the Air Force 16 years ago, all Tricia Benning wanted to do was learn to cook.

Now, the technical sergeant has a free ticket to attend the elite Culinary Institute of America, courtesy of the Air Force. It’s one of the perks of being named the Best Enlisted Aide in the Air Force for 2003.

Benning, 34, is the only enlisted aide assigned to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Remington, commander of the 18th Wing. She competed against other aides assigned to teams serving higher-ranked generals.

Which makes it all that much more significant that she won the top title, as well as being named Best Single Enlisted Aide.

“Every day Tech. Sgt. Benning amazes me and members of my family,” Remington said Friday. “Her contributions are often behind the scenes, yet have a profound positive impact on my effectiveness as a commander. She works in close concert with all the members of my personal staff, continually looking ahead and developing strategies that make a tremendous difference in how our wing performs.

“From the beginning of the day until late at night and throughout the daily grind, her response to any question is: ‘How can I help you?’” Remington said.

The answer can be anything from planning, preparing and serving dinner for 150 guests to making sure the lawn is mowed and the general’s uniform is pressed.

“My career field is in the services area,” Benning said Friday during a break at 18th Wing headquarters. “I was working at Kunsan (Air Base) when (Brig.) Gen. (Gary) North asked me if I was interested in making a career change.”

North was being promoted to brigadier general and assigned to Kadena Air Base. The position rates an enlisted aide. Benning was the readiness and training manager for the services squadron at Kusan and must have made an impression on him.

During North’s farewell dinner, the command chief told her North was insistent that she come to Kadena with him.

“It was an impulsive decision, but I accepted,” Benning said. “I knew that I would learn a lot about the Air Force and learn culinary and other skills that I hope to use one day in the civilian sector.”

When North finished his tour on Okinawa, Benning stayed on to become Remington’s aide.

Benning has an office in Remington’s home and manages the family’s day-to-day needs, from preparing meals they can heat when their busy schedules allow, to assisting Remington’s wife, Machelle, with preparing gift baskets and volunteering at the post office.

One of the great things about her assignment has been getting to know the general, his wife and their three teenage daughters, the Chicago native said.

“I have a great working relationship with Mrs. Remington,” Benning said. “The house is always full of laughter. It’s great. I guess I’m spoiled because I really enjoy coming to work every day.”

The job sometimes makes for long days. Just in the last year, Benning has planned and prepared gourmet meals for more than 30 events at the Remington home and took part in some 795 visits by distinguished visitors.

“By working as an aide I’ve developed a great respect for our senior leadership,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about what the Air Force is all about and how it fits in with the other services and the local community.”

Remington says Benning is one of many reasons why commanding the 18th Wing has been a great experience.

“Kadena Air Base is a special place with over 20,000 people, and Tech. Sgt. Tricia Benning is just one more reason why we remain a community of excellence,” he said. “She does an incredible job for me and everyone else here.

“I am proud to have her as a member of Team Kadena.”

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