Face of Defense: Senior NCO’s Volunteer Spirit Grows
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Amber Jacobs
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan, Nov. 4, 2013 As rain clouds began to dissipate and the sun began to shine here Nov. 2, the sound of cheers could be heard blocks away from the Risner Fitness Center as the 14th Annual Kadena Special Olympics were about to begin.
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Miller embraces Air Force Tech. Sgt. Makoto Mizuguchi, a Japan Air Self-Defense Force medical technologist, during the 14th annual Kadena Special Olympics on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Nov. 2, 2013. Mizuguchi volunteered his ambulance services during the event. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Jacobs
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Armed with a hand radio and a cell phone, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Miller, 909th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent, was ready to spring into action and tackle the day’s issues.
With a crackle over the radio and a quick response back to the control center, Miller was on the move, energetically assisting guests with questions and giving high-fives to the athletes.
“This is what I look forward to,” Miller said while applauding special needs athletes savoring cheers and encouragement. “Seeing the athletes’ excitement is why I volunteer.”
Before long, a call came in over the radio. The opening ceremony needed more balloons, and Miller was off. With the balloons in hand, he stepped through the double doors of the fitness center.
“We’re going to run for it,” he said as the brightly colored balloons quickly trailed after him to the field, where the athletes waited for the ceremony to begin. Miller began passing out the balloons to eager athletes and family members.
“Kadena Special Olympics is personal to me, because my best friend has a special needs daughter,” Miller explained. “When I first started volunteering in 2004, I went in with some apprehensions, but after you interact with the special needs athletes, it opens you up, and you want to volunteer every single year for this. It was an eye-opening experience.”
Miller has been hooked ever since, and this was his fifth year participating in the event.
“The very first year, I was a cheerer and logistics assistant,” he said. “The second year I did it, my best friend and I took over running the sports events, and ever since then, I’ve always been in a leadership position.”
Miller said doing something he loves is important, not because it is expected on an enlisted performance report, but because helping others is something he likes to do.
“When I give feedback to my senior [noncommissioned officers] and my junior NCOs that I rate on, I tell them, ‘You don’t volunteer for events just to fill a block on you EPR; go find something you love to do and go do it,’” Miller said. “This is one of those things that I love to do.”
As the event began, another crackle came over the hand radio, and once again Miller was on the move. This time, Special Olympics banners had blown over in the wind and needed to be fixed.
Every year, thousands of volunteers assist the special needs athletes and artists during the Kadena Special Olympics, and this year was no exception. With more than 2,000 volunteers and about 400 local interpreters working in support of one of the largest Special Olympics events outside the United States, this year’s event had more than 1,300 special needs participants ready to compete.
“Everything from the huggers, cheerers, medical coverage, food handlers, interpreters, trash collectors, etc. is staffed by volunteers,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Wilkins, Kadena Special Olympics volunteer coordinator. “So without the generous donation of time and resources from the Okinawa community, to include all military services, Japan Air Self-Defense Force included, as well as local nationals, this event just wouldn’t happen.”
With less than 10 minutes remaining before the 10 a.m. start time for the opening ceremony, and after responding to an additional call for a missing athlete, Miller noted that it already had been a busy day.
“I got here at 4:30 a.m. to help with this event, and I will work about 14 to 17 hours today,” he said.
Despite the long day and the countless hours of planning that went into the event, none of that mattered to the senior master sergeant as the band began to play.
“These athletes are the most important thing,” he said. “The volunteers are great, … the donations people give us are great, but seeing the athletes’ faces on game day, that’s what it’s all about.”