By Mr. Gordon Vanvleet (NETCOM)November 19, 2008
After nearly 30 years in the United States Army, another great American is hanging up his hat and leaving an institution he has dedicated three decades of selfless service.
Col. John M. Blaine, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command (Army) deputy commander for operations, was officially recognized during a retirement ceremony held in the Pentagon Oct. 10. The Army's Chief Information Officer/G-6, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, who presided at the ceremony, presented Blaine with the Legion of Merit for his 29 years of service to the country.
Blaine graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1979 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant of Signal. Blaine, a career Signal Officer, has had a diverse career with assignments in Germany; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Gordon Ga.; Fort Hood, Texas; Kuwait; and Washington D.C., to name a few.
Blaine and his wife Anke, who have been married for 21 years and met during Blaine's first tour to Germany, have two sons; John IV, a 19-year-old sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, and Zachary, a 7th grader with a passion for baseball.
Serving in uniform was a desire he had since he was a young boy.
"While I did not grow up in a military family, many of my family members had served in the past, or were serving during my impressionable years," said Blaine. "My father served in the Navy with duty in the South Pacific during World War II; one brother-in-law served in the Navy during the mid 1960s, with duty in Vietnam; two cousins served in the Navy, one a helicopter pilot and the other a Doctor; and a third cousin served a tour with the Army."
It was the stories told him by his father and brother-in-law that impressed him the most said Blaine.
"My father, who was extremely proud of his service, was a radar operator serving aboard a transport ship that moved troops, supplies and prisoners throughout the theater during the last year of the war.
"My brother-in-law, Pete, served as a navigator/bombardier on a Navy A6A Intruder flying off the carrier USS Independence during VietNam," said Blaine. "Within 30 days of the carrier arriving on station, Pete and his pilot were forced to eject from their aircraft over enemy territory, and spent five hours evading the Viet-Cong before being rescued. That story has always had an impression on me."
Even with all the Navy stories pushing him, it wasn't the Navy Blaine ended up joining. "During the summer before my senior year in high school a close friend's father, who ran the town's local college ROTC program, talked me into applying for West Point." A year later, in July 1975, Blaine found himself walking through the gates of Michie Stadium at West Point starting a new chapter in his life. "I distinctly remember thinking that I would leave the military after my initial five-year commitment, but here I am 29 years later retiring from the military," said Blaine. "You never just know how events will play out," he added.
Blaine's career was full of good times and some bad. The good times included graduating from West Point; marrying his wife, Anke; and the births of his two sons; and all the Soldier promotions he had the honor of presiding over. The bad included a crash of an F-16 fighter jet into Green Ramp at Fort Bragg, NC, which killed a number of paratroopers preparing for a training jump; and being in the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, he said.
The baritone-voiced, steely-eyed colonel was quick to point out that the good times vastly outnumber the bad when it was all added up.
When looking back on his career, Blaine said he didn't have a single mentor, but had many instead. "I had some incredibly great bosses to work for over the years that demonstrated through their actions a positive form of leadership and a keen sense of keeping a Soldier focus," he said. "The ones that come to mind are Maj. Gen. Gerald Brohm, Lt. Gen. Dave Kelley, Lt. Gen. Mike Ackerman, Maj. Gen. Dave Bryan, Maj. Gen. James Hylton, Lt. Gen. Stephen Boutelle, Maj. Gen. Carroll Pollett, and my current bosses, Brig. Gen. Susan Lawrence, and Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson." Blaine said each of these generals he worked with had their own unique leadership style that junior officers, like himself, emulated. "Over time you began to figure out what you liked and adopted it to your style of leadership. Even today I continue to learn new approaches or techniques that hone my leadership style."
If asked what his greatest accomplishments were, the colonel would be quick to say "my family!" But if you ask others who have served with the colonel, then you might hear about how the colonel set the stage for incorporation of IT technology into Army Ground Combat Platforms, during his command of the 124th Signal Battalion, 4th Infantry Division. Another accomplishment might be when Blaine commanded the 160th Signal Brigade in Kuwait and was responsible for the largest communications commercialization effort ever undertaken by the Army in a combat zone.
Or it could be said his greatest feat was standing up an entire Signal Brigade in an active combat zone, starting with 12 people and in ten months, growing to 1,200 Soldiers and Civilians on the ground supporting ongoing operations in six different countries.
Whatever the accomplishments, it is clear Blaine's career has had a lasting effect on the Army and on the country he has dedicated his life to serve.
Now, at the end of this chapter of his life, Blaine's ambitions are not finished. "I plan to transition to the industry side of the communications business and stay in the Northern Virginia area for now," said Blaine. "I do want to add that I also plan on spending more time with my family...and maybe pick up playing golf again on a more regular basis," he added with a smile.
At the end of the retirement ceremony, with his family, and many of his close friends in attendance, Blaine said he owes his successful career to the people he has worked with during his many years in the Army, and that is why even though he is leaving the service, he will not forget his service and all the Soldiers and Civilians he has met and worked with during the greatest years of his life.
"The Army that we have today is a highly professional Army consisting of highly dedicated Soldiers, Civilians, and Contractors," said Blaine. "And I know that one of the many reasons I stayed in the military for 29 years was because of the professional workforce that we have."