James W. Blackburn is the namesake of the armory built in 1979 at 4185 Dalton Pike S.E. His son, Jacob, who goes by Alan, was sworn into the Guard 31 years ago. James’ grandson and Alan’s son, Jake, took the same oath Sept. 23.
A second ceremony was held Sept 30 in the armory so his grandfather could attend.
Jake departs Oct. 23 for Fort Benning, Ga. He is assigned to Troop F, 2/278th Regimental Combat Team in McMinnville.
“He has always been interested in the military,” Alan said in a recent interview. “I never pushed him toward it. I wanted it to be something he wanted to do because my dad never pushed me. I just woke up one day and realized that was what I wanted to do, too.”
Alan said Jake was “fired up” about joining the military in high school.
“I said OK, if you are going to do it, why not consider the National Guard first and make sure you like it and enjoy it. If you do, maybe you’ll go active duty,” Alan said.
Jake graduated from Walker Valley High School in May 2011. He continued talking off and on about joining. His parents kept saying, “You know Jake, you’re young. The Guard is not going anywhere. You’ve got a scholarship that pays for almost everything you need to go to technical school to become an automotive technician.”
He opted to attend Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens, where he graduated as an automotive technician.
“Before he even graduated, Toyota of Cleveland hired him,” Alan said. “He started working part time before he even graduated. As soon as he graduated in April, he was working fulltime at Toyota.”
Jake had completed high school and earned his automotive certification, but there was still that one thing he had always talked about, but had not done. He had not served. But, he did not want to join the 252nd M.P. Unit in Cleveland where he could use his automotive training. Jake wanted to do something a little more fun, according to his father.
“He said he wanted to do something a little more fun. He wanted to jump out of airplanes,” Alan said. “The best opportunity to do that is not to be an M.P., but to go infantry or something like that. I told him that if he did, that would put him in the 278th Regimental Combat Team.”
If that turned out to be Jake’s decision, he would be the third generation to have served in the 278th. He continued talking about it in June and July. By September, he was ready to join.
Alan encouraged him to talk to Toyota of Cleveland service manager Tom Trout.
“I told him he really wanted Tom’s support because it puts him in a bind when you’re gone and he’s got to hold a job for you,” Alan said.
After passing his qualifying tests, Jake discussed his decision with Trout, who was very supportive and encouraged him to serve.
“It wasn’t another week until we were at M.E.P.S. in Knoxville. He actually took the official oath of office at Knoxville because he had to. My dad wasn’t physically able to go to Knoxville,” Alan said.
Lt. Joey Tipton, a family friend, performed a second swearing in ceremony Sept. 30 at the James W. Blackburn National Guard Armory with the grandfather, son and grandson all in attendance.
The ceremony was special to all three generations of Blackburn men. The local armory is the only one in Tennessee whose namesake is still alive. James served 44-1/2 years. He was fulltime at the new armory, as well as its forerunner in downtown Cleveland behind the old YMCA building, which is now the alternative school for Cleveland City Schools.
“My dad, James W. Blackburn, has an armory named after him and he’s still alive. That’s unusual and I don’t know that it has really ever happened before,” he said. “He was fulltime here as an administrative technician and the first sergeant. As he neared mandatory retirement at age 60, he was promoted to sergeant major. Pinky was a sergeant major and my dad was a sergeant major, too, so it gets real confusing.”
James W. was retired by age in 1991. Troop A, 1/278th ACR of the Tennessee National Guard paid Sgt. Maj. James W. Blackburn tribute May 19, 1991.
Another long-serving former guardsman, James Hampton, said his and James W. Blackburn’s service closely paralleled. They joined the Guard together in 1947 and three years later, Sept. 1, 1950, the local unit was mobilized for the Korean War.
Hampton and Blackburn were assigned to the 278th Infantry Regimental Combat Team at that time. Though some members of the 278th went to Korea and Bradley County suffered casualties during the conflict, he and Blackburn remained stateside.
The elder Blackburn returned to Cleveland one year, one month and 22 days later, according to his separation papers.
Alan works as a civilian at the armory named after his father. He grew up at the old armory and he feels comfortable at the one that bears his family name.
“I grew up on Steed Avenue behind the post office on Keith Street,” he said. “Me and my brother, we’d ride our bikes to the armory and spend the day playing there. Dad would say that’s enough playing, now get out there and mow the yard,” Jacob said. “That’s what I grew up doing.”
Alan joined the Guard in August 1982, three months after graduating from Cleveland High School. He retired from uniform service Dec. 1, 2005. His career began as a cavalry scout. James E. Blackburn was the commander and Alan’s father, James W. Blackburn was the first sergeant.
At that time, guardsmen enlisted at the Guard center and did not go the federal military entrance processing station, but in his father’s day, guardsmen did not go to boot camp.
He really had no ambition to go fulltime with the Guard at the time he enlisted.
“I knew I wanted to serve,” he said. “Dad was fulltime then. He didn’t push. He answered questions, so I took that lead from my dad and applied it to my son.”
After awhile, Alan found that he liked the National Guard and decided to take the same career path as his father and Oct. 1, 1984, Alan was hired fulltime as a recruiter for the National Guard.
He recruited in Bradley County and the surrounding areas for 14 years until he was sent to Smyrna as an operations noncommissioned officer. Alan stayed there about 24 months where he was promoted to master sergeant. He moved to Johnson City for 24 months until the area supervisor in Athens retired. That is where Alan retired from Dec. 1, 2005.
After retirement, he intended to cut grass, but as he neared the transition date, he was offered a job as a civilian contractor. Eight years later, he is still at the armory.
Alan and his wife, Traci, have two children, Jake and Chelsea. Chelsea is a 2012 graduate of Bryan College. She is now serving as a missionary to the Dominican Republic.