Bush nominates Marylander to top National Guard post

Blum, 56, would oversee policy, future direction of 470,000 standby troops

January 07, 2003|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A Maryland Army National Guard general, who once taught school in his native Baltimore and commanded peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, has been nominated by President Bush for the top National Guard job in the Pentagon.

Maj. Gen. H. Steven Blum, 56, a graduate of Forest Park High School and the University of Baltimore, will be promoted to lieutenant general if the Senate, as expected, approves his nomination to become chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington.

The post of chief, which has a four-year term, is similar to that of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meaning Blum would oversee policy and the future direction for the estimated 470,000 standby soldiers of the Air National Guard and the Army Guard.

The chief's position has been vacant since Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis stepped down early last year.

Stationed in Colorado

Blum is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, serving as chief of staff to Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, the first commander of Northern Command.

The new command, created last fall, has military responsibility for homeland defense. Blum's job is to coordinate activities of all the uniformed services, including reservists, assigned to Northern Command.

Commissioned in 1971 as a second lieutenant with the Maryland Army National Guard, Blum has led troops at every level, from a Special Forces Operational Detachment to commander of the 29th Infantry Division, made up of Guard units from Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

In the fall of 2001, Blum became the first Guard general since the Korean War to command Guard combat units in a foreign operation when he was sent to northeastern Bosnia with elements of the 29th Division for six months.

Blum also commanded a contingent of foreign troops in the peacekeeping operation, including Russians, Turks, Latvians and Danes.

"It's a historic event," Blum said in an interview at the time. "We think it's a great honor."

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Before the Bosnia assignment, Blum served on overseas training teams and held stateside commands but never anything as complex and as high-profile as a peacekeeping mission.

Praise for Bosnia work

Pentagon officials praised Blum's work in Bosnia, which included returning refugees to their homes, capturing weapons caches and providing security for a mission to arrest suspected al-Qaida members.

During his time in Bosnia, Blum's troops were visited by the late historian Stephen Ambrose, who also was impressed by the Maryland officer.

"He is outstanding in his job as military commander and diplomat," Ambrose wrote in his final book, To America, published last year. "He reminds me of Eisenhower in 1945."

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