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Former fighter pilot named new director of Punchbowl

    James Horton (right) has been named the new director of Punchbowl cemetery.

A former Air Force fighter pilot and onetime inspector general for Pacific Air Forces will become the new director of Punchbowl Cemetery March 9, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced.

James Horton will be responsible for all administrative, burial and maintenance operations at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Horton is currently the deputy inspector general at Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.  

A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Horton has more than 4,200 flying hours in T-38, RF-4 and F-16 aircraft. 

From 2007 to 2010, Horton served as Inspector General, Pacific Air Forces, at Hickam Air Force Base, and as PACAF assistant director for operations, plans, requirements and programs.

Previously, Horton was the vice wing commander of the 354th Fighter Wing, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska and commander, 79th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, SC, the VA said.

In 2011, Horton retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel with more than 27 years of active duty service.

Horton holds a Master of Arts degree in business administration from Golden Gate University, San Francisco.  He is also a graduate of Air Command and Staff College, Armed Forces Staff College and Air War College.

"Congratulations to Mr. Horton on being selected to oversee Punchbowl," said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono in a release. "As the only national cemetery in Hawaii, with more than five million visitors each year, Punchbowl plays a critical role in honoring the service and memory of the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces. I am looking forward to speaking with Mr. Horton as he transitions into his new role to learn more about his vision for this special cemetery."

The VA cemetery has experienced some turbulence in recent months.

Former director Gene Castagnetti retired unexpectedly Sept. 30 with nearly 24 years at the helm after complaining about micromanagement from VA higher-ups.

Veterans service organizations in Hawaii complained in December, meanwhile, that they were never told about the availability of nearly 100 in-ground burial sites at Punchbowl, which was considered a "closed" cemetery for such burials for decades.

Hirono and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard both looked into the VA’s practices, and the VA subsequently promised to do a better job of reaching out to veterans service organizations.

The national memorial cemetery is the final resting place for 54,630 dead and has a budget of about $2.4 million, an official said.  

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