As division commander with the Minnesota National Guard in the 1980s, Army Maj. Gen. Robert Blevins was credited with transforming his outfit from a reserve unit operating under Cold War politics to the operational force the Minnesota Guard has become today.
Blevins, whose military career spanned from 1946 to 1988, died Tuesday of complications following surgery. He was 83.
From 1986 to 1988, Blevins was commander of the Minnesota Guard's 47th Viking Division, an infantry unit organized after World War II. Throughout its history, the division's direction was subject to constant change as "an instrument of shifting directions and goals for national security and the containment of communism," according to a history of the unit in the Military Historical Society of Minnesota. When it was inactivated in 1991, the 47th Viking Infantry Division, which included as many as 10,000 soldiers, was converted into the 34th Infantry Division "Red Bulls," which is what they are known as today.
"Very few officers reach this pinnacle in their career and it is a testament to his abilities, perseverance and charisma that he would be selected for leading the largest organization in the Minnesota National Guard," said Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota Guard, who served under Blevins. "He was and always will be an example to those who were in his command."
Blevins' awards during his 40-plus years of service included the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Minnesota State Distinguished Service Medal.
Joe Van Lith, a former division command sergeant major under Blevins, described him in an online tribute as "a true enlisted soldier leader. He was always open to input on behalf of the enlisted soldiers."
A St. Paul native, Blevins joined the Army in 1946 after graduating from high school. He married Ginger, his wife of 60 years, shortly before leaving to attend Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1952. He served in both World War II and the Korean War. Following his active duty years, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Minnesota National Guard.
"He was proud of who he was, and he wasn't going to be second to anyone," said Ginger Blevins.
Still, the Blevins household wasn't held to exacting military standards, said son Greg Blevins. "We didn't have to stand in line and salute him. Out of uniform, he was a very warm and gentle man," Greg Blevins said.
A mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, 2914 W. 44th St., Minneapolis. A full military burial will be at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
Survivors include his wife, sons Jeff, Greg and Tim; daughters Shelley Brain, Kelly Blevins, Missy Mahoney, Kerrie Blevins and Kris Lee, and 16 grandchildren.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434