Face of Defense: Guardsman Retires After 56 Years
By Army Sgt. Jesse Houk
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., July 14, 2010 A young man working on a farm in Illinois decided to enlist in the National Guard in March 1953 after he received a challenge from his friend and employer.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Nelson "Gene" Blakey of Moweaqua, Ill., retired in June 2010 after 56 years of service with the Illinois Army National Guard. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Camacho
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Korean War’s cease-fire was near, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower had just started his first term in office.
Many things have changed since then, but one thing didn’t change: the young man’s commitment to serve his country.
Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Nelson "Gene" Blakey of Moweaqua, Ill., retired June 1 after 56 years in the Illinois National Guard.
"I don't think we will ever find anyone to replace him," said Army Sgt. Maj. Donnie R. Parker of Lincoln, Ill. "I think we can find someone who can do the job -- we have personnel in the office who are covering down on the things that he was responsible for and are getting things done -- but as far as the person, I do not think you will ever find anyone who will compare with the person that Mr. Blakey is."
Blakey started his military career working in a U.S. Property and Fiscal Office warehouse here. He progressed through the ranks to sergeant major, and then from chief warrant officer 2 to chief warrant officer 4. Blakey hung up his boots and retired as a traditional Illinois National Guardsman in 1994, but he continued to work for the military as a state employee for 16 more years.
Although he has experienced many things throughout his career, Blakey said, his last position was his most enjoyable.
"My most rewarding position was the last job I had working in the personnel department, because I was able to help enlisted people," he said. "If they had a problem and could not get it solved within their unit, I would try to help get it solved. I worked there from 1975 until I retired."
Others attest to Blakey's passion and ability to help soldiers solve problems.
"Mr. Blakey, in the time that I worked with him, was a person that was very interested and concerned with taking care of soldiers," Parker said. "He would go out of his way to do whatever needed to be done to see that the soldiers were being taken care of in a way they should be. He was a very humble, outgoing person who was willing to assist in any way possible, whether it was part of his job description or not."
While Blakey's career nearly spanned the length of three 20-year military careers, he said he continued to serve in the Illinois National Guard because of his friends and family. His wife, Bonnie Blakey, also is retired from the Illinois National Guard.
"My family has been supportive of me," Blakey said. "My wife retired in 1999, and her support and involvement has been very important. If your family knows what you are doing, they stay with you and help you through everything."
Most people working at Camp Lincoln here knew Blakey, and many others throughout the state connected with him during their careers as well.
"He definitely had the ability to mix his professional career with friendships," said Ray Perry of Springfield, personnel support officer for the Illinois National Guard and a retired colonel with the Illinois Army National Guard.
"I always enjoyed making my morning rounds and getting the latest news or thought for the day from him,” Perry said. “He always had the ability to put a smile on your face."
Although Blakey has retired, he does not look to take it easy. Instead, he is focusing his attention on things that need to be improved around his house.
"I will have horses to take care of, along with house and barn work to do," he said. "I will not slow down. I will keep going as long as I can."