Lt. Gen. (ret.) H Steven Blum, 76, came from a military family with roots in Baltimore. His father and uncles enlisted in World War II; his grandfather served in World War I; so there was no doubt in Steven’s young mind that he would volunteer to serve his country.
“As a Jew and a citizen of the United States, it seems to me it was the right thing to do,” said Blum of Pikesville and Bonita Springs, Fla.
He joined the Army National Guard 19th Special Forces Unit (Airborne) in Towson after graduating Forest Park High School in 1963 and the University of Baltimore in 1968. He would later earn his master’s degree in social science at Morgan State College and graduate from the U.S. Army War College.
He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Susie Blum, for 56 years; the couple has two grown children, Marc and Debbie, and four granddaughters.
In a decorated military career spanning more than 42 years, serving at posts worldwide, Blum became the highest-ranking Jewish officer ever in the Army National Guard.
The Army National Guard, in conjunction with the Air National Guard, is an organized militia force and a federal military reserve force of the United States with some 450,000 members.
Blum was instrumental in transforming the Army National Guard from a once unwieldy Cold War strategic reserve into an agile, lethal operational force capable of joint and expeditionary warfare — a flexible force capable of responding to a broad range of civil and humanitarian crises.
Appointed by President George W. Bush, Blum served as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense and chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and chief of staff of the Air Force on all National Guard issues.
In fact, this three-star general has commanded at every level with his final assignment as Deputy Commander, U.S. Northern Command, and Vice Commander, U.S. Element, Northern American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado.
He was also the first National Guard officer to serve as a Deputy Combatant Commander. He retired in 2010 but still remains active in security affairs.
In retirement, Blum works for two companies and owns a consulting business. He also serves as a senior U.S. officer member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Blum laments that there are too few Jews in the U.S. military. “It’s not at the scale of other minorities, and that’s regrettable,” he states, adding that “the Jewish community does not see the U.S. military as an honorable and noble profession. It’s unfortunate for our military because they lose the talent of these young men and women that are Jewish who choose not to associate or experience a military career. They miss out on opportunities, training and experiences they will never realize that they could have benefitted from. That’s not the case in Israel, where every single, young man and woman finds some way to serve their country.”
Blum is the lifetime liaison between the National Guard and the Armed Forces to the Jewish War Veterans (JWV). He is also a member of the local post.
The JWV could be stronger, but it struggles with membership, says Blum, adding that “when you have very limited numbers, then your influence is not as great as it could be.”
‘You hold nothing back’
Blum deployed overseas three days after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and worked in counter-terrorism. He served for two years in Bosnia-Herzegovina as commanding general for the Multinational Division (North) Stabilization Force 10 in Operation Joint Forge. Post-9/11, the U.S. mission changed to maintaining the peace and stability of the region with a coalition of 11,000 citizen-soldiers and augmented by multinational forces.
“My sensitivity for what happened in the Holocaust helped me a great deal in the understanding of the nuances of that mission and making it successful,” he said. “I watched the Croatians, Bosnians and Serbs basically put each other in concentration camps and commit mass murder. We exhumed many bodies in mass graves and brought war criminals to justice on all sides. It was almost a mini-reproduction of what we watched in black and white in the 1930s and 1940s during the Holocaust.”
Blum was in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan every six or eight weeks for several weeks at a time ensuring that the National Guard had the proper training and equipment. Nearly 50% of the National Guard combat forces were on the ground.
“We did work for the Israel Defense Forces and its leadership. We brought back a lot of their techniques, and they adapted some of ours related to counter-terrorism and homeland defense,” he says.
Blum’s military training shaped his thinking about war: “It should never be an early option, but if you have to go to war, you hold nothing back because trying to do it a little bit at a time with all the unnecessary caveats and restrictions just costs young men and women their lives, and it prolongs the conflict,”
“It’s very much like what’s going on in Ukraine. The assistance that’s going there is being doled out — rationed a little bit at a time — and all that is doing is prolonging the suffering of the Ukrainian people,” he explains of the conflict that started last year on Feb. 24. “The ultimate outcome is the Ukrainians will prevail because they have considerable skin in the game. They are fighting for their national survival, for their national identity, and most of the Russian soldiers, they don’t even know why they’re there. And it makes quite a big difference.
“Any nation that doesn’t want to see war or see aggression or oppression from a stronger military force must be ready to conduct decisive war at a moment’s notice. In my view, that serves as the best deterrent for avoiding armed conflict. Weakness, unfortunately, is sensed by an adversary and only encourages them to test and try you out — very much like a schoolyard bully.
Blum says “Israel wouldn’t exist as a nation if its neighbors didn’t feel that they had that attitude. That’s the only reason Israel is still around. They have a strong military and have been willing to use it. The very moment that Israel shows a lack of resolve or lack of ability to defend itself, it will cease to be a nation.
“I will say the same thing for the United States of America,” he continues. “Freedom does not come free; it has to be earned and preserved each and every day by each and every generation.”