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War Eagle

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Lake Mary’s George Benefield, Jr. is one of the most decorated military men in our community

Colonel George Benefield, Jr., is far too humble to mention the fact that he has earned 85 awards and decorations in the service of our country, including the Bronze Star Medal that George earned while serving as commander of his A-10 flying unit in Iraq. And even to those who know him well, George rarely speaks about his six active calls of duty in the Air Force to defend our great nation.

However, even as a boy growing up in the Chattahoochee River area, George felt a calling to choose a path in life that would serve and protect the lives of others. The son of an Air Force Master Sergeant and firefighter, George leapt at any opportunity to spend time riding along in the community fire truck so he could watch the firefighters, who were hard at work saving lives.

Like many military families, George and his kin had the opportunity to move around a bit, and they spent time in both Texas and Italy before eventually settling down in Columbus, Georgia. After high school, George attended Auburn University, where he graduated with a finance degree, then he received a commission through the Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. He attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and received his wings in July 1985.

George spent his next four years as Assistant Flight Commander at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and married his longtime sweetheart, Cindy, before spending four more years as a Flight Commander for the 511th Tactical Fighter Squadron in RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom. In November 1990, George served as a Flight Commander in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, and the following year he became an A-10 Instructor Pilot in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Battle Creek would become home to George and his family for the next 12 years, where he and Cindy were blessed with three beautiful daughters who were born in the same hospital and in the exact same birthing room! However, during those tender years when he and his wife were raising young children, George never wavered when duty called, and he went on to proudly serve his country two times in Bosnia, as well as serving as a Commander in combat tours in Kosovo and during Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom.

Even though George took each mission one day at a time, and he lives a life filled with no regrets, he will never forget how it felt to compose a letter to his loved ones each time before he was deployed.

“Every war has loss, and there’s always a chance you or one of your buddies might not return home safely,” says George somberly.

As for his family, they bravely faced their sacrifices with pride and patriotism.

“Three days before the start of any war, no contact can be made with your loved one,” recalls Cindy, who still remembers the nervous tension she experienced many times while gathering around a television set with other families to gain any new shred of information. “You just have to stay positive and say plenty of prayers.”

After 30 years of military time and more than 4,000 flight hours, memories of his military career flicker through George’s mind like the highlights of an action-packed movie reel. He recalls motivational speeches he heard (and delivered) to fellow fighter pilots defending our country and the camaraderie and friendships that were forged during critical moments in history.

“At the end of the day, it’s an incredible experience to be part of a team with a mission to serve and protect others,” says George.

And to that, we respectfully say, “Thank you for your service.”

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