Kadena senior NCO model of Special Olympics volunteerism
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- As rain clouds began to dissipate and the sun began to shine, the sound of cheers could be heard blocks away from Kadena's Risner Fitness Center Nov. 2. The day had finally come--the 14th Annual Kadena Special Olympics was about to begin.
Armed with a hand radio and a cell phone, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Miller, 909th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendant, 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, the senior master sergeant was on the move.
In what seemed like a matter of seconds Miller was on-scene conducting crowd control as he energetically assisted guests with questions and gave high-fives to the athletes.
"This is what I look forward to," Miller said while applauding special needs athletes as they walked through a gauntlet of cheers and high-fives. "Seeing the athlete's excitement is why I volunteer."
Not before long another call came in over the radio, the official opening ceremony needed more balloons, and he was off.
With the balloons in-hand, he stepped through the double doors of the fitness center and said, "We're going to run for it," as the brightly colored balloons quickly trailed after him to the field where the special needs athletes waited for the ceremony to begin.
With the guests waiting for the event to kick-off, Miller began passing out 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, making this 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."
For Miller, doing something he loves is important, not because it is expected on a performance report, but because helping others is something he likes to do.
"When I give feedback to my senior NCOs 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 to start, another crackle came over the hand radio and once again Miller was on the move, this time Special Olympic 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 approximately 400 local interpreters 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 (athlete escorts), cheerers, medical coverage, food handlers, interpreters, trash collectors, etc. is staffed by volunteers," said 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."
The dedication of the volunteers that participate in this event every year make it possible for the Kadena Special Olympics to appear to go off without a hitch.
"The Kadena Special Olympics would be impossible without the volunteers," Wilkins said. "I know that sounds simple, but it is the absolute truth."
With less than 10 minutes before the 10 a.m. start time to the opening ceremony, and after responding to an additional call for a missing athlete, Miller added, "I got here at 4:30 a.m. to help with this event, and I will work about 14 to 17 hours today."
Despite the long day and the countless hours of preplanning that went into the event, none of that mattered to the senior master sergeant as the band began to play.
"The biggest satisfaction every year is seeing the execution of the event and the athletes; these athletes are the most important thing," Miller 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."