By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandJanuary 31, 2018
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Jan. 31, 2018) - A retired sergeant first class who donated a kidney to save his son's life personifies the Soldier for Life spirit within the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, then Sgt. Blake Rubie rushed - as quickly as one can via space-available military "hops" - from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to the Canary Islands, to Travis Air Force Base, California, to witness the birth of his son, Bryce, at the Presidio of Monterey.
Bryce, however, arrived at the hospital before Blake, who had deployed to Turkey during wife Anna's third month of pregnancy. Bryce was born with underdeveloped kidneys, requiring emergency ambulance transport to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.
"We thought, we hoped, we prayed, the kidneys would grow," Blake recalled. "But they didn't."
Three months later, doctors removed both kidneys. They put Bryce on dialysis and asked Blake if he was willing to donate a kidney.
"It was a no-brainer," Blake said. "I could live well with one kidney. My wife had a history of kidney disease in her family. Her father died at 44. She couldn't donate, so I did."
The waiting, however, continued. Once testing confirmed Blake's kidney was compatible for the transfer, Bryce had to live 10 months and weigh at least 18 pounds to seal the deal.
Blake received a compassionate reassignment to the Presidio of San Francisco to be close to Bryce through seven months of dialysis.
In March of 1995, Bryce received Blake's right kidney.
"In between the hips, so to speak," Blake said. "And the rest is kind of history, you know?"
Blake attributes this kind of resilience to his career as a Soldier for Life.
"It's a continuation of when I was a Soldier living that lifestyle, that frame of mind," Blake said. "Being strong, trying to excel, doing the right thing, living all the Army values."
Blake is quick to volunteer his skills and talent around the workplace. He's a vocalist for Jammin' with the G-Staff, a volunteer band of IMCOM musicians who provide entertainment at command events.
Blake has been singing monthly for wounded troops and their families at the Warrior and Family Support Center at Brooke Amy Medical Center since October of 2013. He's also a member of the gospel choir at Freedom Chapel on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
"Singing is good exercise for the lungs," he says. "And remembering the words is like a mind exercise."
The pursuit of excellence also led him to Toastmasters International. A 10-year veteran of the public speaking and leadership education organization, Blake served as 2014-15 president of the Fort Sam Houston chapter. He's currently serving his third consecutive term as the club's vice president of education.
"Toastmasters has taught me to be a better leader and helped me deal with my fear of speaking in public," he said. "Very few people are naturals who like to shine in the spotlight."
Blake now feels natural enough to post videos of himself singing and dancing in the spotlight of YouTube.com, and proudly reports that his clips have been viewed by hundreds. He's even written a book: "The Gray Brain and the Golden Soul," 80-some pages about spirituality.
"It's my ticket to heaven, man," he said.
For more than 13 years, Blake has exemplified what is now called IMCOM's Service Culture Initiative by providing exceptional customer service with a selfless attitude of helpfulness.
"It's always been about looking after Soldiers, and providing excellent customer service," Blake said. "I take pride and satisfaction from helping, especially with one of my duties: the worldwide individual augmentation system sending our Soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. It's the interactions I've had with people, to include Soldiers, that help me realize that we're all in this to help each other.
"We're going to be held accountable for how we treat people, in the end, on that judgement day. I think God is watching what we're doing and we can either show love for people or not. The choice is ours. We can create or we can destroy. In my time here at Headquarters IMCOM, I see that it's all about customer service and the challenges every day to treat people the way that we want to be treated, and to display all those virtues that I was taught in the Army.
"To be all I can be," Blake continued. "To be Army strong. If you wake up feeling bad, tough it through. To stay in shape. To get enough sleep. To eat right. To function optimally. To be a good human being. And the Army has helped me - it's given me a second life, if you will."
Now 63, Blake was 41 when he sacrificed a kidney for his son. Suddenly, his desire to get up and go was gone, along with much of his energy.
"I didn't want to push to the limit any more," he said. "My stomach was like a board for a year."
That was unchartered territory for the captain of a running team that garnered Presidio of Monterey's monthly Commander's Cup five times and finished runner-up four times during a year in which he regularly ran two miles in less than 12 minutes. Before departing for Turkey, Blake also won the Ironman Trophy for Soldiers enrolled in the Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
Seemingly incapable of continuing to fully exert himself with just one kidney, Blake resorted to a healthier lifestyle and eventually became a vegan.
"I don't feel as strong as I used to but I have more energy," he said. "I just didn't have the desire. A piece of my body was taken out and I was still recovering."
The Presidio of San Francisco closed its doors in October 1995, and Blake reported to PERSCOM Casualty and Memorial Affairs in Alexandria, Virginia, as a staff sergeant who handled records for Missing in Action and Prisoner of War troops.
By then, Anna and Bryce had relocated to Oak Harbor, Ohio, near Toledo. From 1995 through '98, Blake routinely drove a Geo Metro 500 miles each way from Northern Virginia to visit his son. His next assignment was at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Cleveland, where he enjoyed monthly 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday visits with Bryce for three years.
"We would go drive around," Blake recalled. "Go shopping and go to restaurants. Throw the football around; throw the baseball around."
Blake's next duty station was Caracas, Venezuela, from where he flew into Detroit and rented a car to visit Bryce as often as feasible during the final 2.5 years of his 22-year active-duty career.
Before slicing his Army retirement cake in May of 2004, Blake already was working - while on terminal leave - for IMCOM Headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, as a contractor.
In August 2010, Blake, a 30 percent disabled veteran, came to Texas. As a Department of the Army civilian, he followed his job during IMCOM's congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, move from Northern Virginia to San Antonio.
Meantime, Bryce, now 23, received another kidney in 2014 from his best friend's mother in Oak Harbor. He left Ohio in 2015 to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles. He's appeared on television shows "Days of Our Lives" and "Superstore," along with a few music videos, and works full-time at a juice bar in Burbank.
"He's living his dream," Blake said with a smile.
Blake wound up living the dream his parents envisioned.
"It's what my parents wanted," he explained the wishes of his mother and father who died 10 days apart in 1999, both at age 81. "They wanted me to be in the military. They knew that was a good lifestyle and the benefits were good. It was the right fit at the right time with the Falklands War going on and me being unemployed. My parents were very proud of me until the day they died."
In hindsight, Blake said his parents were right.
"I think the Army is one of the best ways of living in the world," Blake said. "There is always respect. If you live on a post, there's no crime. I love the Army. It's got a plan. They look after the environment. They've got a plan to save the world -- to make the world a better place. I'm glad to be a part of that. They help out whenever there's fighting: we go and we fight. And in times of peace, we keep the peace. Wars will become a thing of the past and we'll always be concentrating on keeping the peace, but we'll always be ready to suppress any oppression, unkindness, genocide, that kind of thing. We're the good guys. We look after each other, and we look after other people."
Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army, has made it perfectly clear that readiness of the total Army is his No. 1 priority. Blake sees that emphasis every day at IMCOM.
"I think my standards are high," Blake said. "Like [former IMCOM commander] Gen. [Rick] Lynch once said: 'Do the right thing. Do what's right, and ask yourself: What are we missing?' Everybody should be ready in the Army. Everyone needs to stay healthy and strong, and that's the challenge. Get enough sleep each night. Sleep well. Finding out what to do, how to do it, finding a way so that you are the best person you can be -- so that you can be ready, and help others to be ready.
"Some days you're not going to feel as strong as you were the day before, but never give up, never quit. I keep striving for excellence, and I rely on my fellow employees to help me. We need each other's help. We can't do it alone. It's all about teamwork. And the learning never stops."
Blake credits the Army system for training Soldiers to succeed throughout their military career and to exhibit the utmost care for humanity the rest of their life.
"While I've been in the Army, I've seen such great, great leadership in officers and NCOs - the kind that I'll never forget - great men and women, especially drill sergeants and MPs," he concluded. "Wonderful people! I feel honored and privileged to have been a part and still be a part of that team."