Soldier graduate keeps tight schedule

Guardsman delivers speech, hurries to rejoin unit bound for Iraq

May 25, 2007|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,sun reporter

SALISBURY — --Time, says Julius Blattner, hasn't exactly been on his side lately. In fact, it has been flying by.

But it isn't just the last-minute crush of details for a graduating senior that has had Blattner, 22, running so hard.

It's a military assignment to Iraq that has loomed over his last days as a civilian and a student.

A member of the Maryland National Guard for nearly five years, Army Spc. Blattner requested and got permission to leave his unit in Baltimore County, the 1175th Infantry Regiment, just long enough to dash home to deliver the commencement speech to about 600 graduates at Salisbury University yesterday morning. Another 600 received degrees at an afternoon commencement.

"Since I got orders, everything has been about time," Blattner said in an interview. "Maybe time stays the same, neutral. You can't manipulate it; you just have to schedule around it."

Last week, Blattner and his bride, Kristen VanSant Blattner, took an early honeymoon after moving up their wedding date from June 1 to May 12.

"He's a busy guy, and he wouldn't let a change in date make a big difference" said Kristen Blattner, 22, who graduated last year and is a marine biology technician. "Julius heard the commencement speech at my graduation last year. He decided right then and there that he wanted to do it this year. He wouldn't have missed that."

In his speech, Julius Blattner reminded graduates that "time is about perception. We choose our attitude, and attitude determines how we spend and perceive the time we have."

Blattner was due back in Baltimore County this morning in time for his company's departure from the Towson Armory to Fort Dix, N.J. for training. The company is to head for Iraq by midsummer. About 1,300 part-time soldiers from Maryland are being sent overseas as part of the latest call-up.

Four years ago, Blattner delivered the commencement address for his senior class at J.M. Bennett High School in Salisbury.

"One thing I remember was that he talked about time management - pretty unusual," said Terry Blagus, who works in the school guidance office. "Julius is a kind, wonderful boy. It's a horrible thing to think of him in a war."

Blattner, who had a 3.9 grade-point average at Salisbury, is a small-vehicle mechanic for his infantry unit, a skill he picked up when he took a high school vocational course in addition to his college prep classes.

"A commencement speech request is a little unusual, but it's the kind of thing that can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis," said Maj. Kristine Henry, spokeswoman for the Maryland Guard. "In this instance, he's only missed a day or so packing equipment. Later on, it would have been more difficult. At Fort Dix, they'll have very intensive training."

Scheduling is something that Blattner knows about, say those who know the wiry former high school wrestler, all 5 feet 7 1/4 inches of him. "God gave me that one-quarter, and I always take it," he quipped.

Advisers and professors have been amazed for four years by Blattner's academic load of a double major in elementary and early childhood education, along with serving as president of the Kappa Delta Pi education honor Society. He has also worked with the Campus Crusade for Christ, and assisted with after-school mentoring, reading programs and numerous other projects for children at the Wicomico County library and recreation department.

"Julius is the kind of guy who when he says he'll take care of something, you know absolutely that he will get it done," said Patricia Dean, director of early childhood education at the university. "He's made an impression in every classroom he has been in; everybody knows him."

After moving out on his own at 18, Blattner, who says his family life was difficult, helped raise his brother, David.

Holding down full-time jobs at a fast-food restaurant and a grocery store and working part time as a substitute teacher, Blattner has invested in property, buying a condominium near the university and a small bungalow in nearby Fruitland where his wife said she will live until he returns.

Blattner's only active-duty experience was in 2005 with a stint in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. He said he "can't get his mind around" going to war.

"Our orders say 400 days," he said. "That's about a year, 400 days."

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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