Metro-East News

Roger That: Volunteer activities no longer factor in Air Force promotions

News-Democrat

The Air Force still likes it when the troops work at the local food bank or volunteer to a Big Brother or Big Sister. But under a new personnel policy, volunteer activities will no longer be a factor as to who gets promoted or who gets passed over, according to Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, the director of military force management policy, according to a story in the Air Force Times.

“It shouldn't play in how we evaluate and select for promotion,” Kelly said. “It doesn't mean we don't still value that and want our airmen to participate and do those things as part of their overall development... We still value our folks doing that. But it’s not going to be how we determine who gets promoted.”

The Air Force has long encouraged airmen to volunteer in their community or further their education off-duty as part of what it called the whole airman, or whole person concept, and rewarded them for doing so on their evaluations. But under the new performance-driven evaluation system that is now being put into place, it will be impossible for someone to not be good at his job and still get promoted because he volunteers, Kelly said.

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The number of veterans seeking health care but ending up on waiting lists of one month or more is 50 percent higher now than it was a year ago, when a scandal over false records and long wait times led to a public outrcy and Congressonal action to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs, The New York Times reported.

The VA also faces a budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion, which has led the agency to consier furloughs, hiring freezes and other moves to reduce the gap, the newspaper reported.

In the last year, the VA has increased capacity by more than 7 million patient visits per year, or double what officials originally thought they needed to fix shortcomings, the Times reported. However, department officials did not anticipate just how much physician workloads and demand from veterans would continue to soar.

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Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Okinawa, the final major battle of World War II and one of the bloodiest.

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, joined about 5,000 people including U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in a memorial service Tuesday marking the 70th anniversary of a campaign that began with the Allied landing on April 1, code-named “Love Day,” and ended June 23.

Losses for both sides during the so-called “Typhoon of Steel” were horrific: more 14,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines perished. Nearly 80,000 Japanese troops were killed, with up to a third of them entombed in the many tunnels, caves and underground bunkers where they made their final stand. Up to 150,000 Okinanwan civilians died, many through mass suicide brought on by Japanese-inspired fears that the American invaders would harm them.

Today, Okinawa is home to 25,000 military American personnel and many assorted Marine, Army, Navy and Air Force units and bases, including Kadena Air Force Base, the hub of U.S. airpower in the Pacific. Kadena is home of the 18th Wing, the Air Force’s largest combat wing.

On a personal note, my late father, Pfc. Michael J. Fitzgerald, fought with the 1st Marine Division, “The Old Breed,” on Okinawa and spent months in one of the most intense combat zones of the entire war. His 19th birthday took place 11 days after the invasion. In early June 1945, he suffered fragmentation wounds from a Japanese grenade attack and was evacuated to a Navy hospital on Guam. For what it’s worth, my dad never wanted to talk about Okinawa. “Too much,” he’d tell me when I was a kid. “Maybe when you’re older.”

Several times, though, he recounted the close call he experienced when a Japanese sniper killed the Marine sitting next to him as they ate breakfast. “If I hadn’t leaned over for my coffee,” he always told me matter-of-factly, “that would’ve been me.”

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