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The closest Naval base to the tiny, Southeast Asian island of Palau is in Guam, 745 miles northeast. Future aviation electronics technician Ellen Benedict’s homeland is even farther from her current residence in Hillsboro, Oregon—6,437 miles.


Benedict left the island after studying environmental marine science at Palau Community College, the only college in the country. She always knew, though, that her future was in aviation and that led her to Arizona State University and the United States.


“I wanted to be a pilot in high school but I wasn’t sure how to get started,” she said. “I looked through this book with colleges in it and saw Arizona State offered a program in aviation. I bought a ticket and left two days later.”


Initially, things did not go so well for Benedict. Her bus commute to campus was two hours each way and she was working full time as a server at a retirement home. After one semester at Arizona State, she withdrew and moved in with her sister in Beaverton, Ore.


It took two years, but Benedict found another aviation program at Portland Community College and enrolled. The PCC program is run at Hillsboro airport, a small facility on the outskirts of Beaverton. In August of 2013, she began working at the airport in line services, washing, moving and cleaning the aircraft and the hangars. While she says that it was a lot of fun, the best part of it all may be the commute from home to school.


“I live 4.2 miles away now and have a 10 minute drive,” she said, smiling.


During high school, a Navy recruiter came to her school in Palau and administered the ASVAB. At the time, Benedict put some thought into the Navy but decided to attend college to accomplish her goals. Eight years later, she finally reached out to the Navy. After accumulating debt from student loans to pay for her education, she looks to the Navy to begin her professional career instead of working her way up in the civilian sector, where the starting salary is approximately $23,000 a year.


“The cost of my education is a lot cheaper than being a doctor or lawyer, and it’s more fun,” Benedict said. “As a flight instructor and taking the career path toward a regional airline, you don’t make that much.”


For some, making the transition from civilian to Sailor can be difficult. Benedict, however, is using the Delayed Entry Program meetings to better prepare herself.


Benedict started her current journey more than a year and a half ago, when she first walked into Navy Recruiting Station Beaverton, Ore., to inquire about enlisting. She leaves for boot camp this fall. For a woman who has traveled almost halfway around the globe to follow her dream of a career in aviation, Benedict said that she is ready for this next journey.

 


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Updated March 1, 2017 (kbh)