Testing in U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG)’s extreme environment is meant to push the most powerful military equipment to its breaking point.
When that happens to any mechanical facet of the hull of a massive tracked vehicle, it is Ben Bendele’s job to get it up and running again.
“It could be annual preventative maintenance, it could be corrective maintenance and troubleshooting,” explained Bendele. “Throughout the whole day as one goes out, I get another one in.”
Bendele has worked at YPG since retiring from the Marine Corps as a Master Sgt. in 1993. He began working on tire tests, but the large tracked vehicles under test at the proving ground caught his eye.
“I was working with wheels all the time and saw tanks go by and thought, ‘I’d like to work on one of those,’” Bendele recalls. “They were short of personnel over here, so I transferred over.”
He has been there ever since, seeing the tracked vehicle workload increase dramatically over the years. His excellence in the job resulted in Bendele being named YPG’s civilian of the quarter several years ago, among other accolades.
A native of Santa Maria, California, Bendele and his brothers grew up on a dairy farm, milking cows and fixing tractors from a young age.
“I had a cousin who during Vietnam was in the Marine Corps and I decided to go the same way,” he recalled. “Something caught me about the uniform.”
Since he was only 17, Bendele needed his parents’ permission to join, and his father, a Korean War veteran, tried to talk him out of enlisting.
“He finally got mad and signed it, and I’ve never been back since.”
Marine Corps basic training was rigorous and demanding, but Bendele thrived.
“I went in weighing 139 pounds and came out of boot camp weighing 159 pounds. I gained that much weight in muscle.”
His first duty station was Hawaii, but he was deployed for all but 13 months of his three year tour there. Though American combat in Vietnam had ended, Bendele participated in Operation Eagle Pull and Operation Frequent Wind, the harrowing evacuations of American, Cambodian, and South Vietnamese personnel from the capital cities of Phnom Pen, Cambodia and Saigon, South Vietnam over the course of weeks in April 1975.
“We were there up to 24 hours. There was no time to sleep or do anything but get it done. When it came time for the last chopper, we had to throw our flight jackets and helmets over to get everybody in the chopper. We were receiving fire and you could see the tanks rolling in.”
After being stationed in Oklahoma, Bendle first came to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in the early 1980s.
“When I first got here to Yuma, I liked it. Everbody was telling me, ‘You don’t want to go to Yuma, it’s too hot!’ I was tired of cold weather: this is good for my bones.”
He would ultimately return to a different squadron at MCAS-Yuma, but not before receiving orders to embassy duty. He went through the rigorous training course at Quantico, Virginia and served for three years as a detachment commander, first in Costa Rica, where he met then-American Secretary of State George Schultz, then in Stuttgart, Germany, where he was stationed when the Berlin Wall fell.
“I almost got to Morocco, but they sent me to Costa Rica, probably because I speak Spanish. I don’t speak it fluently like my parents, though: I understand more than I can speak.”
After one more stint on Okinawa, Bendele returned to Yuma and retired from the Marines, starting his career at YPG.