SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — The Air Force Core Values are not just for active Air Force members. One man in Sheppard embodied each of those core values, especially the core value of service before self, which he did tirelessly serving the base and its people in his own way.
Benjamin Balberas, known as Ben among his peers, is a 69-year-old master of the battleground known as the military dining facility, at which he ventured to and served for 35 years.
At a training base where more than 10,000 meals are served on an average dailyto mainly trainees still adapting to the military lifestyle, the sheer amount of work to keep it running smoothly and the natural stress that comes with it, only few can imagine the mess that happens behind closed doors.
Ben though, a simple and humble man, would go day in and day out serving and cleaning up after these trainees like clockwork every day.
He is the oldest of five brothers and three sisters and is originally from Vernon, Texas, about 50 miles west of Sheppard Air Force Base. He said his childhood consisted of waiting at home with family while his father worked most nights for them.
When he was old enough, Ben moved to Wichita Falls in 1982 away from his family and started work at a workshop on Sheppard. Later he was moved by Work Services Corp. to services at the dining facilities.
While Ben did not admit it was better, he did admit, though, the extra pay working at the dining facility was pretty nice.
Every day for 35 years, Ben got up early to get on the bus from downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, to get on base, then back on to get home.
After years of grueling work, most people would be ecstatic to not return to this mundane routine, but the face Ben made when asked about his retirement was an expression of bitter and sweet.
After explaining his plans for a reunion with his family in Vernon and eventually Michigan to visit his nephews and brother, his cheerful demeanor and smiles turned to a somber blank expression when mentioning all the good people he’s met along the years.
"The employees," Balberas said, when asked what he will remember the most from his time here. "I will miss all my friends."
March 8 will be the last day of one of Sheppard’s true unsung heroes. Being recognized by Brig. Gen. Ronald E. Jolly Sr. himself and getting a standing ovation to the announcement of his farewell from crews from all three dining facilities on Sheppard, Balberas’ will not be leaving quietly.