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Army veteran now helping youth

Bobby Blair, retired Green Beret and Huntington native, now teaches JROTC at Huntington North. With 24 years of military training under his belt he has been able to pass that knowledge on to the kids through this program.

Blair enlisted into the Army Reserves as a personnel administration specialist in 1993 while still in high school as part of the split OP program.
This meant that after basic camp in Fort Jackson, SC, the summer before senior year, he would go for army drills in Fort Wayne every month during the school year.  

He went into the medical field while still being enlisted and continued that for his 18 active years on top of the year and a half in the reserves before he went and changed over to the Warrant Officer field.

After graduation Blair went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for approximately 10 months to learn the job before he was stationed in Germany for four years.
He was then in San Antonio for a year and half before his first re-enlistment. The next two years after re-enlistment, he was back in Germany.
After Germany, Blair went through the selection process for the Green Beret. Before the qualification course, he was stationed in Fort Bragg in North Carolina and deployed to Iraq.
After deployment he came back to Fort Bragg for the Green Beret qualification course. The Green Beret’s training is extremely physically demanding as well as mentally challenging.

“When I got into the military, I started to realize that Green Berets were a different type of person. It took a very unique individual to become a Green Beret,” said Blair.
“It’s 1 percent of the military that tries out; 1 percent that makes it through the selection phase and then another 1 percent that makes it through the qualification course.”

He was able to finish the qualification in a year, which is fast  tracking since it usually takes a minimum of a year and a half.
Since Blair could already speak a second language, from his time in Germany, he skipped the six months of language school.
They wanted him as a medic first due to his medical training, but after serving a year in Iraq with a medical hospital and wanting to do something different he decided on Special Forces Weapons Sargeant.
For the next 12 years and the remainder of his military career, he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colo.  During this time, he went to Iraq two more times with a total of three tours with 27 months.  

Throughout his military career Blair was able to travel around to a wide range of different countries. While living in the western part of Germany, he could travel through the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), a quality-of-life program for soldiers.
“I would say ‘I want to go to France for the day’ or the Netherlands or Austria or Switzerland and you were able to do that,” Blair explained.
He could go to the United Service Organization (USO) or MWR and pay for a trip. “When I went to the Netherlands for the day it was $59 and they bused me up there, showed me all the sites; played tourist and then we came back,” Blair said.

“I went to Spain for four days and three nights for around $150. You stay in a four-star hotel that’s all inclusive. You just can’t beat that.”
He traveled to Europe frequently and his unit picked up portions of Africa, so he has been able to visit 10 different countries over the course of five different trips.
But one of Blair’s favorite places was when he was stationed in Fort Carson and did a trip to Estonia, a small country on the Baltic Sea. “When you think of fairytales, this is where they happen,” Blair said.
“I was looking out my hotel window on the 16th floor and on the one side of the picture you saw the sunrise and on the other side  you  saw  the  sunset,
 but it was 3:45 a.m. and it was just then getting dark,” Blair said.

He had also earned an associates and bachelors from the University of Maryland during his time served.
At age 41 he retired from the military and moved back to Huntington where his mother’s family resided.
“I knew my time. You need 20 years to retire from the military, at that time I had 24. I had done my goal,” Blair said.
For the first year of retirement, Blair worked at Pathfinders, started a tattoo business, and was a fitness instructor.
It wasn’t until 2018 that he realized there was a need for a JROTC program. With his vast military background, he stepped up to head the program.
“I’ve done a lot, now it’s time to share that knowledge with the kids,” Blair said.

The plan was pitched to the school board that October, which was instantly approved, and two years later in January of 2020 the military approved the program for the 2020-2021 school year.
Blair has played a key role in giving the students real life experiences and opening doors for them in ways recruiters can’t.
Each student has different potential and a different goal, this program helps kids find that motivation and drive to reach their goals.

“My happiness comes from a kid who might have a rough background suddenly succeed. It’s what we call mission success,” Blair said. “It’s not the quantity of kids you push through the program, it’s the quality of the output.”  
Chase Falcone, a senior LET 3 cadette, said, “Without the support of the instructors I wouldn’t be as far as I am today because of it. I’m excited to see where it goes from here and the things that I’m going to learn as the year goes on. And I implore anybody in the high school to join.”

As the program continues, more graduates can come back to talk to current students about not just the program, but their life after high school. They will be able to open their eyes to what their own future holds and drive them to accomplish more.

Emily Edison, 2021 alumni and the first battalion commander of the program said, “Chief Blair gave me a program that shaped who I am today and made me a better and more passionate leader and person. The mentorship and growth I found while helping to build this program is something irreplaceable and an experience I will always treasure for the rest of my life.”

Part of this program is community service hours. This last year alone, there have been 300 community service opportunities for students who need 40 hours every year. There are also service-learning projects which are available weekly for students.
Currently they help the Huntington County Humane Society every Wednesday, as well as helping the janitorial staff which will continue next year as well.
Every year there will be a class project for what next years’ service-learning project will be. Most recently, the program was just approved an adopt a highway

Christina Dyke, Mother of senior Chase Falcone, said, “The leadership for these students is helping to create productive citizens for our community not only by their community service projects, but by giving these kids alternative choices for future career endeavors, pushing them to create a path for themselves in the world. They are being shown options.”

In addition to service work, the JROTC is active in the community with color guard leading parades, sporting events, community events, and helping with the American Legion by presiding colors are ceremonies including funerals.
Furthermore, they are involved in extra curriculars such as Raiders, an obstacle course event which goes against schools across the Midwest. Last year the cadettes competed in Missouri and Nationals in Georgia where the female’s finished 7th and the boys finished 14th out of 2500 schools throughout the USA. They also do co-ed teams.

There is a Junior Leadership Academic Bowl (JLAB) where students answer Jeopardy-style questions about the military, JROTC, current events and history and compete. There is also a scholarship opportunity which includes a chance to go to Washington DC to compete.     
Dyke said, “The students revel in their wins together, root each other on not leaving anyone behind, and they are challenged to do better by any losses.”
The program just started archery and are waiting for air rifles to come in with equipment so students could have a chance at a Junior Olympic team.

“Every extracurricular we do is scholarship. We’re always trying to get those kids through open doors,” Blair said.
Through JROTC, students are not only eligible for scholarship opportunities, but if they choose a military path, they will enter with an advanced rank.
“Teaching what we teach at the high school holds kids responsible and helps put them in leadership positions, helps open their eyes to what the world is going to hit them with as soon as they walk out on graduation day,” Blair said.

The JROTC program has been a fast success with the leadership of Blair and his experience behind him. He has played a crucial role not only serving our country, but in the lives of the students at HNHS and the Huntington community.