Since age 8, Milwaukee native Thomas Benes always wanted to fly airplanes. Born into a long line of tool makers, fabricators and machinists, he also loved science, working with his hands, and figuring out how machines were put together.
First in his family to earn a college degree, Benes received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1974 and spent the next several decades flying fighter jets for the U.S. Marine Corps from aircraft carriers and bases in Japan, Europe and the Pacific.
A graduate of the TOPGUN program, he was a pilot and flight instructor for 25 years and participated in combat operations that included leading a squadron in Operation Desert Storm in 1990.
In 1993, he received his MPA in public administration from George Washington University and went on to hold more senior leadership roles, including president of Marine Corps University and director of strategy and plans for the Marine Corps. In 2003, he was the chief of staff for land operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, after being promoted to major general, Benes became director of expeditionary warfare for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps until his retirement in 2009. His military career spanned 35 years, and he left with honors that include Department of Defense awards, international military recognitions, and a Bronze Star.
As a pilot, he says, his engineering degree was crucial. “You have to really understand how that airplane’s designed and how it functions to get the most out of it,” Benes says. And as a squadron leader in charge of a dozen planes, hundreds of people and millions of dollars, that expertise helped him prioritize systems improvements and maintenance efficiency. In tactical roles, his engineering background helped him guide the development of new aircraft systems.
Following retirement from the military he became vice president of the Integrated Solutions Group at Alion Science and Technology, a technology firm that contracts with the Department of Defense, other governmental agencies, and commercial customers.
He now lives in Spotsylvania, Virginia, with Betty, his wife of 30 years. In his free time, he likes to fish and hunt, which he attributes to his Wisconsin upbringing. He also enjoys woodworking, making traditional furniture and musical instruments such as the Appalachian mountain dulcimer, which he also plays.