Q&A with Ramstein’s newest wing commander

by Capt. Erin Dorrance
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

***image1***Editor’s note: Captain Dorrance recently interviewed Col. Bill Bender, 86th Airlift Wing commander, one-on-one to discuss his career and hobbies. Colonel Bender took command of the 86th AW Wednesday.

Q.  Where are you from and where do you call home?
A.  I am originally from Buffalo, NY, where my extended family (parents, four brothers and sister and their families) all still live.

Q.  Who are your family members?
A.  My immediate family members are my wife, Sue. We’ve been married 22 years. My son, Matthew (19), is a first-year cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy and my daughter, Kristin (16), will be a junior at Ramstein American High School.

My extended family includes my father, William Bender Sr., and my mother, Charlotte. They have been married over 50 years. My grandparents on my father’s side immigrated to America from Offenburg, Germany. I have four brothers: Thomas, Michael, Paul and John, and one sister, Mary Kay.

Q.  What did you think you were going to do with your life when you were 13 years old?
A.  I admired my dad and thought about being an engineer, but was also considering the possibility of becoming a pilot. The primary thing that was important to me at that time in my life was my desire to pursue something that I felt could make a difference for good, by making things better for others.

Q.  Why did you choose the military and specifically the Air Force?
A.  At some point I decided I wanted to have a profession more than I wanted to have a job. The profession of arms had great appeal because the U.S. military had always been held in high esteem by Americans throughout my teenage years. In that I was excited by the thought of becoming a pilot, joining the U.S. Air Force made good sense to me.

Q.  Do you have any stories to share from OTS or ROTC?
A.  I joined the Air Force through the USAFROTC program on a full college scholarship. I attended Manhattan College in New York City and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. At that time (1983 graduate) the Air Force was very short of engineers. I was very fortunate to be selected as a distinguished graduate from my ROTC summer camp, because this allowed me to enter pilot training without having to forfeit my scholarship.

Q.  What did you learn from being an executive officer to the U.S. European Command deputy commander?
A.  It was a tremendous opportunity to work closely with Gen. Kip Ward, the previous deputy commander for U.S. European Command and current commander, U.S. Africa Command, as his executive officer. I also had the privilege to work a short time in the same capacity for Vice Adm. Richard Gallagher, the current European Command deputy commander. During the time I served as the executive officer, the initial steps to standing up the U.S. Africa Command took place.

Essentially, I had a front row seat during a historic time in U.S. military history. For example, in the past year I visited 18 African countries; met prime ministers, presidents, chiefs and ministers of defense and U.S. ambassadors to these countries; and was directly involved in formulating General Ward’s engagement strategy throughout Africa, Europe and in Washington D.C. as he prepared to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as AFRICOM’s first commander. Another great advantage of being assigned to the U.S. European Command was the opportunity to serve with many members of the other military services. I met and worked with fantastic Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, and learned a great deal about joint military operations.

Q.  Was there a specific supervisor who helped you reach your goals?
A.  As I look back over a 24-year Air Force career, I can point to many commanders, supervisors and enlisted leaders who have helped me to reach my potential as an Air Force officer. However, no single person has been more of an influence than my parents. My mom and dad instilled in me the work ethic, the character, the commitment to a higher purpose and the sense of patriotism that remain the reason I continue to serve in the U.S. Air Force, and to have enjoyed the many opportunities the Air Force has given me.

Q.  When you do have free time, what do you enjoy doing?
A.  I especially treasure spending time with my wife, Sue, and my children, Matt and Kristin, and with our friends. It really doesn’t matter what we’re doing, just that we’re together and enjoying the opportunity to be with those we love most. My personal interests include team and individual sports, running and reading for pleasure. Sue and I always enjoy hosting and entertaining friends and family in our home. Likewise, we feel it’s important that our children know their friends are always welcome.