Florida Inducts Six Veterans into New Hall of Fame

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

The late, former Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He parachuted into Europe on D-Day and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day,’” Gibbons wrote in his World War II memoir I Was There.

Gibbons passed away peacefully in his sleep last year at age 92.

This week, Gibbons was posthumously inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. His son was there to accept the honor bestowed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In all, six Floridians were welcomed into the first class of the new Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. They were given Hall of Fame Medals and Certificates.

1.            John R. D. Cleland, Major General (Retired), U.S. Army (Melbourne)

2.            The late US Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, former U.S. Army Major (Tampa) – represented by his son, Clifford Sam Gibbons

3.            John L. Haynes, Major (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Monticello)

4.            Robert F. Milligan, Lieutenant General (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Tallahassee)

5.            Jeanne Grushinski Rubin, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Sunrise)

6.            Robert J. Silah, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Tampa)

The Veterans Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the state of Florida after their military service.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

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Florida Governor Honors Vets with Service Award

Florida First Lady Ann Scott and Gov. Rick Scott presented service medals to the veterans living and working at the state veterans nursing home in Land O'Lakes.

Florida First Lady Ann Scott and Gov. Rick Scott presented service medals to the veterans living and working at the state veterans nursing home in Land O’Lakes.

Florida is home to around 1.6 million military veterans. That’s a point of pride among state officials — who like to say Florida is the “most veteran-friendly state in the nation.”

Florida offers a number of tax breaks and services to veterans — and now a new honor. Governor Rick Scott has created a state medal to recognize their service.

“The freedoms and opportunities that were afforded by the American dream were paid for by the service and sacrifice of our brave veterans,” Scott said. “That’s why it’s so important that we frequently honor and give thanks to our veterans. Our heroes have made countless sacrifices for our Florida families. That’s why we don’t just wait for the holidays to thank our men and women.” Continue reading

A World War II Veteran Purged from Florida Voter Rolls

WWII Veteran Bill Internicola. Photo by Taimy Alvarez/Sun Sentinel/MCT

An Army World War II Veteran, who was awarded the Bronze Star as a medic in the Battle of the Bulge and honored by France with its Chevalier Legion of Honour, received another distinction from the State of Florida.

Ninety-one year old Bill Internicola, the Stars and Stripes reports, got a letter recently that purged him from the voter rolls. It stated:
“The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office has received information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.’’

Florida is a vital swing state in this year’s presidential election. The WWII Veteran participated in a news conference hoping to demonstrate flaws in the state’s effort to purge voter rolls prior to the election. Continue reading

Purple Heart Day: Florida Sets Aside Aug. 7 to Honor Vets

The Florida Legislature has approved three veteran related bills this session including one that sets aside August 7th each year as Purple Heart Day in Florida.

The legislation does not establish an official government holiday, so state agencies, offices and the courts will remain open. What Purple Heart Day is meant to do: raise awareness and honor veterans who are wounded or have been killed in battle.

The second bill allows veterans to have early registration at public universities that allow early registration for any other group of students such as athletes. Veteran students will get the same priority.

“This will help insure that our veterans will get the necessary courses before their federal benefits run out,” said Steve Murray, spokesman for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

The third bill allows veterans to earn some college credits from public colleges and universities for some of their previous military training.

“That training will be evaluated by the American Council on Education,” Murray said.

The bills will soon be on the governor’s desk for action. Gov. Rick Scott served in the U.S. Navy so it’s a pretty good bet that he will sign these three bills into law especially since the legislation was backed by the Florida Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, a state agency that he controls.

Florida Veterans Face Budget and Structure Changes

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Bob Milligan is interim executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs.

At first glance, it appears there is a 44 percent slash in the governor’s proposed budget for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s budget cuts and  agency reductions are now available online. Floridians can compare his recommendations  to the agency’s requests and to current budgets.

If you compare the current state veterans affairs budget  of $81 million to the governor’s proposed budget of $45.5 million, it appears as if Scott is cutting the agency 44 percent.

But that’s not the case. Veterans Affairs spokesman Steve Murray said the governor’s proposal reflects the transfer of the department’s six nursing homes and one assisted living facility, the largest portion of the budget, to a public corporation. 

“This public corporation could report directly to the governor and cabinet,” Murray said. “It would operate in the sunshine. Our agency the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs would work hand in hand with the corporation on veterans issues. We would be able to retain VA funding.”

Baldomero Lopez State Veterans' Nursing Home in Land-o-Lakes is one of six run by the state.

Transferring the veterans’ nursing homes to a public corporation was the idea of retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bob Milligan, interim executive director of Florida Veterans Affairs. 

Milligan took over the agency after the unexpected death of  LeRoy Collins, Jr. His assessment of the agency found that there was a 40 percent turnover rate of workers at the seven veteran care facilities.

Murray said employee turnover is because the  state run facilities the nursing homes can not offer employees competitive salaries and lack flexibility.

So the concept of a public corporation was developed. But, the Veterans’ Affairs two year transfer plan – which allows for a year of planning – is not reflected in the governor’s proposed budget.

Milligan will present his public corporation concept and more fully explain the proposed transfer to the governor and Florida Cabinet later this month.

Florida’s National Guard Leader Reappointed

Maj. Gen. Emmet R. "Buddy" Titshaw will stay as leader of the Florida National Guard.

Rick Scott will be sworn in as Florida Governor Tuesday at noon in Tallahassee. But, he is already making his mark selecting his own people to head state agencies like the Department of Corrections and the Division of Emergency Management.

But, there is one Florida leader Scott is keeping, Major General Emmet R. “Buddy” Titshaw, the current Adjutant General of  the Florida National Guard.

Scott cited Titshaw’s leadership as commander of  the Joint Task Force Florida during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005 and the major general’s nearly four decades experience in the National Guard.

Titshaw took over command of the Florida Guard in June 2010 after being named to the post by Gov. Charlie Crist. Prior to that, his most recent position was as special assistant to the Director of the Air National Guard in Washington D.C.

There are currently about 12,000 National guardsmen in Florida and approximately 500 are deployed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Finding Civilian Jobs in 2011

Lt. Col. John Haas, commander of the 1st Squadron, 153rd Cavalry Regiment, based in Tallahassee, Fla., steps off a plane at Hunter Army Airfield, after a nearly year-long deployment with the Florida National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Iraq and Kuwait. Photo by Debra Cox

Finding a job is a top priority for military veterans transitioning to a civilian life and National Guard coming off active duty. And, recent statistics show a higher unemployment rate among veterans than the general public. There are programs for employers and incentive grants.

Job fairs specifically targeted to veterans are another approach. Later this month, RecruitMilitary, a military-to-civilian recruiting firm, has scheduled an “Opportunity Expo” for job seekers who have military backgrounds/ The veterans job fair is set at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. It’s free and open to veterans who already have civilian work experience, men and women who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life, members of the National Guard and reserves, military spouses, and other military family members.

The event is scheduled Thursday, Jan. 20, beginning at 11:00 a.m. and ending at 3:00 p.m.

Some online resources for job searches:

Vet Jobs boasts on its front page that it has more than 35,000 jobs posted, up 17.5 percent from last year.

Warrior Gateway which has a job search engine that cross references geographic info with job opening descriptions.

Military Hire offers help with resume writing and has a list of “military friendly” employers.

U.S. Department of Labor has information for veterans as well as employers including a veterans hiring toolkit for employers.

Florida Department of Veterans Affairs has grant info for disabled veterans, details on a military family employment program as well as links to state job search sites.

Florida veterans may want to keep an eye on Tallahassee where Gov.-elect Rick Scott appointed as his new chief of staff Mike Prendergast, a retired U.S. Army colonel and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Prendergast joined the Army in 1978 and retired in 2009 as U.S. Central Command‘s provost marshal.

Gov.=elect Scott has said that jobs are his highest priority the top issue for veterans.

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