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SecondGenerationMiners: Wilbur Benally III. Operations Trainee

“We do the same thing every day,” says Wilbur Benally III, “you can’t forget what you are doing.”

It’s one of the things he likes about his work as an Operator Trainee at the anode plant in Miami, AZ. There, copper is poured into concrete molds to create slabs 4 ½ ft. in length, weighing 850 lbs. He’s been on the job about 18 months. Wilbur had basic skills and some previous experience in mining, but credits work ethic for landing him the job at Freeport-McMoRan.

“When you work for the mines, if you have a good work ethic, in the long run you will be successful.”

Wilbur never thought he would go into mining. His parents both work in offices and that’s what he thought he’d do too, but when he got an office job doing secretarial duties, he found the work didn’t suit him.“I like working with my hands,” says Wilbur. “I’m a hands-on person.”

The Family Connection

Wilbur’s grandfather, Wilbur Benally Sr., also worked for Freeport-McMoRan. After serving in the U.S. Army, Wilbur Benally Sr. spent his entire career in mining. At Miami operations, he worked in the tankhouse where copper is recovered from a solution as part of the solvent extraction and electrowinning process. 

Although Wilbur vaguely recalls a time when miners came home from work dirty, he remembers clearly that his grandfather went to work in collared shirts and nice shoes. He was a supervisor. Now retired, Wilbur Benally Sr. has said little to his grandson about his life in mining.

“He is a stoic man,” says Wilbur, “a one-word man.”

Wilbur’s grandfather, Wilbur Benally Sr., also worked for Freeport-McMoRan. Photo by LCGross

Forging His Own Path

Wilbur, 22, was born in Mesa and moved to San Carlos in 2006 with his family when his father got a job with the tribe. As a child, he played a lot of sports and dreamed of being in the NFL. After high school, he continued his education with a focus on sports medicine. He got a football scholarship at Bacone College in Oklahoma after playing as a walk-on at Eastern Arizona College (EAC). “Life turns” directed Wilbur away from college and back to work. Mining provided the opportunity he needed. 

“I’m slowly working to where I need to be,” he says. “There’s still a lot to learn. I want to learn everything I possibly can.”

Wilbur has a wife and young son and works overtime when possible.. He hopes to continue his education one day and is looking into many fields, including business. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors and spending time with his family.  

“If I put my mind to something and really want it, I’ll pursue it,” Wilbur says, “but for now, I’m content.”


The Next Generation

When asked if he’d encourage his son to pursue a career in mining, Wilbur is thoughtful.  

“No,” he says, “there’s a lot of education I’d want him to pursue.”

When asked if he would push him toward football, he also said no.

“As a father you want your son to play sports,” he shrugs, “but he’ll have a mind of his own and can go into something else.”


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