Mon, Oct 28, 2019 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Minister discusses his plans to help veterans

Military exercises should be held in cities and townships to foster public respect and build trust, as well as restore a sense of honor to the military, Veterans Affairs Council Minister Feng Shih-kuan said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Aaron Tu and Huang Hsin-po

Veterans Affairs Council Minister Feng Shih-kuan gestures during an interview with the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) in Taipei on Oct. 17.

Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): The problem of being unable to find suitable jobs for retired military personnel persists. How does the council intend to assist in that regard?

Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬): Since the implementation of the program in 1997 to reduce military personnel and subsequent programs, our total armed forces have dropped from 600,000 to 200,000.

However, during the process, we have not redesigned the civil servant pay system for retired military personnel. Retired military personnel can only find work at the Ministry of National Defense or the Veterans Affairs Council (VAC). Yet what of other agencies?

An example of this is the case of a major general who had gone to South America for his military academy, staff college and war college education, and completed his master’s degree and doctorate in Spain.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me that locals in South America said that he spoke perfect Spanish; yet he was forced to retire, as he could not make the promotion to lieutenant general within the given time.

We have no positions to offer these talented and skilled people once they retire.

Do we have military experts in our Ministry of Financial Affairs? Does it not stand to reason that we should have them, as we are developing indigenous weapons programs?

It also stands to reason that the defense ministry and companies should not be the only ones concerned with the establishment of a supply chain that would foster our aerospace industry.

The nation has 15,000 people retiring from the military every year. Of these retirees, the council can only employ 8,000 due to its limited scope.

Private firms or other government agencies should lend a hand.

Why cannot retired military personnel be employed at the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications or the Ministry of Education?

By the time someone is promoted to a full colonel, they must have developed some leadership skills and other specialty know-how. It is just that we do not have anywhere for them to go. I see no reason that they should not find employment in our society.

LT: How could a sense of honor be fostered within the military, while changing the public’s perception to give military personnel the respect they deserve?

Feng: Let me use a few examples to illustrate a point.

About three months after I was appointed to the position of defense minister, the Singapore Armed Forces carried out a scheduled exercise with the Taiwanese military.

I asked the units why they chose the particular area they did to park their tanks. When they said it was for security purposes, I told them the tank was purchased with taxpayers’ dollars and there was no security in question.

Later when the exercise ended at about noon, they told me they were not returning to the base until midnight. I told the company commander to take the unit back to the base by 4pm.

When I then stood at the base entrance watching the armored vehicles return, I noticed how they had drawn the interest of civilians nearby. They were filming or taking photographs of the vehicles.

That gave me an idea and later when Taipei hosted the 2017 Universiade, I ordered armored vehicles to drive down the Zhongxiao E Road when in transit during an anti-terrorism exercise.

The more people who watch the vehicles go by, the more we can proudly claim that we have discipline and good equipment, as well as technique. That in itself gives the military’s image a health boost in the public’s eyes.

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