Patriotism strengthens childhood friendships
L-R, Neal Brinkworth and David Benning, best friends, both 26 and 2004 Glenbrook North High School graduates, are the 2012 Northbrook 4th of July parade marshals. Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:09AM
NORTHBROOK — David Benning and Neal Brinkworth, both 26 and 2004 Glenbrook North High School graduates, are best friends who joined forces to lead Northbrook in patriotism.
Both U.S. military members served as Northbrook Fourth of July parade marshals.
“When I was younger,” said Benning, a U.S. Army infantry captain in the 101st Airborne, “I remember seeing old veterans walking the parade and thought, ‘How honored they must have felt.’”
Benning hopes to inspire somebody to join a cause larger than themselves.
“It’s an honor,” said Brinkworth, a United States Air Force unit tactics officer of the 906 ARS.
“Well,” added Brinkworth, over an iced beverage at the downtown Northbrook Caribou Coffee, “nobody joins the military for the recognition, you know, to get applause…”
Benning, supporting his best buddy whom he’s known since Northbrook Boy Scout Troop 64 days, nodded in agreement.
“We joined (the military) because we believe that everyone deserves a chance to enjoy the freedom that we sometimes take for granted,” said Brinkworth, whose mother Debbie resides in Northbrook.
Brinkworth has one brother, Brian, 33.
Benning has three brothers, Mark (his twin), Paul, 29, and John, 21. His mother Donna and stepdad Dan Toops reside in Northbrook, including his father Steve Benning.
Brinkworth, who was on leave through July 8, is an active duty KC-135 stratotanker pilot.
“So what I do,” explained Brinkworth, “is I fly this aircraft that’s job is to refuel other aircraft in flight.
“In easiest terms, it would be like you want to stop to get gas on a road trip and then all of the sudden, a magical gasoline truck pulls up next to you and fills up your tank while going down the highway without stopping.”
Brinkworth’s conveyance is a military Boeing 707 model, going, “usually, it’s like 310 knots, which is like, 400 miles per hour.”
Brinkworth’s Smartphone revealed an aerial video shot in the North Pole where it was 80 degrees (on the ground) in south central Alaska sometime this past June 7-22.
“I was in Red Flag, Alaska, where there were 22 hours of sunlight.”
Of the Eielson Air Force Base Red Flag mission: “It’s the largest exercise of aircraft, it’s all encompassing.”
Brinkworth estimates, “over 120 aircraft, all in the sky at once.”
“It’s basically harder than real combat.”
Benning smiled broadly.
“The big difference is, people think it’s (air duty) exciting, but in reality, it’s hours of boredom separated by moments of sheer terror.
“Flying is an inherently dangerous profession,” added Brinkworth, who (in 1998 at Wheeling Palwaukee Aiport) “flew a plane before I drove a car.”
Of his most dangerous mission: “So over the skies of Afghanistan (last Jan.),” said Brinkworth, “we had compressor surges on our number three engine (and) we had to shut down our engine.
“And you know,” continued Brinkworth, “this was in combat.
“Luckily, this was just after air refueling, so I didn’t have to worry about not giving gas to our fighters, all we had to concentrate on was making it home.”
Two more hours of flying until touchdown.
“So,” continued Brinkworth, “we are highly trained professionals and we trained for this type of event and hoped it would never happen.
“But it did. Stuff happens,” Brinkworth said.
“That plane is about 60 years old, so if it was a car, it would run on leaded gasoline and have antique plates and probably be in the Fourth of July parade,” said Brinkworth.
“With Ron Bernardi in it,” added Benning, both men now chuckling, a shout out to the Sunset Foods celebrity auctioneer and Northbrook Fourth of July parade regular.
“Ron Bernardi would be driving in it,” Benning said.
Benning, a 2008 Western Illinois University graduate in law enforcement, came home June 6 from Fort Campbell, Ky., and is interviewing for a medical or business career.
“I leave active duty Aug. 15 and I’ll be transitioning to the reserves, which means one weekend a month and two weeks a year, I dust off my uniform and play solider again,” Benning said.
Brinkworth, a 2008 University of Illinois graduate who is completing his master’s, has nine more years in the military.
Both neighbors acknowledge Northbrook.
“When I was deployed,” said Brinkworth, “the students at Wescott and Maple Schools (which he attended) sent me a lot of letters over the holidays (2011), and that was really nice getting a piece of home while I was in a deployed location.”
Said Benning: “I appreciate the honor that Northbrook has given to Neal and me to be grand marshals of the parade and we look forward to continuing to serve the community in any capacity that we can.”