Retired Maj. Gen. James Blaney, who served as Wisconsin’s adjutant general when the Global War on Terror began, passed away Sunday, October 18. He was 82 years old.
Blaney, a resident of Lake Delton, Wisconsin, joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard as an enlisted Soldier in 1960 and served nearly 42 years when he retired in 2002. He was a Spc. 4 with Headquarters Troop, 2nd Recon Squadron, 105th Cavalry during the Berlin Crisis, serving on active duty at Fort Lewis, Washington. He commissioned as an armor officer in 1963 after completing officer candidate school at the Wisconsin Military Academy, and changed branches to infantry in 1971.
Blaney earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education at La Crosse State University (now the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) in 1964 and a master’s degree in education in 1969. From 1968 to 1970 he served as a military leadership instructor in Madison, Wisconsin. He would later serve as commandant of the Wisconsin Military Academy at Camp Williams from 1984-87, overseeing officer candidate and noncommissioned officer training.
He commanded the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry from 1980-83, the 64th Troop Command from 1987-90, and the 32nd Separate Infantry Brigade from 1991-95. He was named assistant adjutant general for special operations in 1995, and the following year he became the deputy adjutant general for Army. He was appointed to be Wisconsin’s adjutant general in August 1997, a position he held for five years.
Gov. Tommy Thompson expressed his confidence in Blaney during an Aug. 8, 1997 change of command ceremony.
“The state of Wisconsin and the Army and Air National Guard are gaining an outstanding leader in Gen. Blaney,” Thompson said, “and I look forward to working with the new adjutant general.”
Thompson, now interim president of the University of Wisconsin system, fondly recalled Blaney.
“Jim Blaney was my friend,” Thompson said. “We grew up in adjoining towns — Kendall and Elroy — and I’ve known him my whole adult life. I had the privilege of appointing him adjutant general, where he did an exemplary job as he did in everything he’s done in his lifetime.
“He was a student, athlete, parent, husband, teacher, Soldier and my friend,” Thompson continued. “He was an outstanding individual. His loss is not only my personal loss, but also a loss for both Wisconsin and the entire country. My heart goes out to his family.”
In 2001, prior to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Blaney initiated a proposal to reinstate the Wisconsin Naval Militia to provide additional assets in the event of a terrorist attack in the state. Gov. Scott McCallum included the proposal in his budget, but it was deleted by a legislative budget committee.
On the morning of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Blaney was in a Madison hospital preparing to undergo knee surgery.
“Although I would rather have personally directed the Wisconsin Guard’s response to the terrorist attacks over the next two weeks, I knew the Wisconsin Guard had two outstanding deputy adjutants general, a superb staff, experienced commanders — and nearly 10,000 of the finest men and women in Wisconsin,” Blaney said in a column in the November, 2001 edition of at ease, the Wisconsin National Guard’s official publication. “I knew the state’s National Guard was in good hands, so I was not the least bit surprised as I watched how professionally and effectively the Guard performed in the first uncertain weeks that followed Sept. 11.
“By the time I could return to my duties two weeks later, the Wisconsin National Guard was involved,” Blaney continued. “The 128th Air Refueling Wing supported military operations both at home and abroad, and the 115th Fighter Wing was supporting the North American Aerospace Defense Command. More Guard involvement would follow.”
Blaney — the last Army officer to serve as Wisconsin’s adjutant general — graduated from Command and General Staff College in 1979, and the U.S. Army War College in 1984. His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal with silver oak leaf cluster, National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with gold hour glass device, Army Service Ribbon and Army Reserve Components Overseas Training Ribbon.
“The Wisconsin National Guard has had an outstanding leader in [Maj. Gen.] Blaney, and he has earned our deepest appreciation for his service to our state and nation for more than four decades,” Gov. Scott McCallum said Aug. 9, 2002 when Maj. Gen. Al Wilkening became adjutant general. Wilkening passed away April 8 of this year after a long fight with cancer.
Blaney and his wife Ramona Kane-Blaney — who served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard for 30 years herself — enjoyed retirement, wintering in Arizona for 18 years, playing golf, and traveling. He was also involved with American Legion Post 309 in his hometown of Kendall, Wisconsin.
“His whole life was the National Guard,” she said. “He loved what he did and all the people he served with.”