Hindsight is 20-20.
That’s true for the Air Force National Guard colonel who recently became part of a military-wide scandal when he administered the re-enlistment oath to a female senior non-commissioned officer wearing a dinosaur puppet on her right hand.
Now retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel as a result of the caper, Kevin “Bly” Blaser realizes he should have stopped the ceremony.
Blaser, who spoke exclusively with Military.com on Wednesday after a video of him performing the re-enlistment ceremony for Master Sgt. Robin Brown circulated to millions on social media, said he equates the whole blunder to running a stop sign.
“My analogy to all of this is I ran a stop sign,” he said during a phone call. “I should have probably stopped the ceremony. That was bad judgment, I one hundred percent admit that.”
But, he continued, the penalty for running a stop sign is a warning or a ticket. In his case, the equivalent might have been a reprimand.
“I was given a death sentence,” he said.
Blaser, 53, was a newly minted colonel at the time of the incident. He said he was walking down a hallway April 13 when Brown, a public affairs specialist with the Tennessee Guard state headquarters, stopped and asked him to do the ceremony.
He didn’t know she would be wearing a dinosaur puppet until he began reciting the oath, he said.
“I was very well aware she’s a single mom with three young ones at home,” Blaser said of Brown, who has been in the Air Force 17 years.
“I made a snap judgment,” Blaser said of letting the ceremony continue, adding he should have stopped it.
Or, he said, “we should have done a new one, and a separate video for [her kids].”
Brown told him after it was done that her kids couldn’t attend the ceremony, which she wanted to share with them.
“She wanted to make a video for her young children to understand the significance of what ‘mom’ was doing,” he said, adding that her intention was also to honor the Month of the Military Child, which falls in April.
Blaser did not know Brown would post the video on her Facebook page, from which it circulated to Air Force enthusiast group pages and went viral with more than three million views.
‘You’re probably going to have to leave’
Blaser, a career Tennessee Guardsman, said he had logged more than 6,900 flying hours as a C-130 Hercules pilot, and had deployed to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Somalia, and participated in humanitarian missions during Hurricane Katrina and to Rwanda.
He had performed fewer than a dozen re-enlistment ceremonies during his 28-year career, he said. He most recently served as the director of domestic operations for air at Joint Force Headquarters Tennessee.
On April 14, less than 24 hours after the video appeared on Air Force-related group pages, Blaser said he alerted his senior leadership to the public relations problem.
The next day, his chain-of-command made phone calls.
“It’s bad,” Blaser was told.
“How bad?” he asked.
“You’re probably going to have to leave,” one of his superiors said.
He says the court of public opinion convicted him.
“What I’d really like to know is, if senior leadership had walked into that conference room and saw just the three of us conducting this ceremony, and if the video had not gone out and gone viral, would the punishment be exactly the same?” Blaser said.
Among the critics was Air National Guard director Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, who posted on his own Facebook page that he was “equally shocked and dismayed by this event that mocks such a cherished and honorable occasion.”
On April 16, Blaser was asked to begin his retirement paperwork.
Maj. Gen. Terry M. Haston, adjutant general for the Tennessee Guard, posted on the official Tennessee Air National Guard Facebook page that he had conducted a thorough investigation into the event.
But Blaser said he was not even asked for a written statement until after he began retirement paperwork.
Blaser says he did not want to retire but wasn’t really given a choice.
“Out of context, it looks horrible, and I understand their outrage at it. But at that point … I was prepared to accept the consequences of my actions,” he said. “I told them if it came to that, I’d retire. If there was no other way around it.”
His side of the story
Blaser on Wednesday said he wants to set the record straight about what happened.
For one thing, he was not demoted.
“By my voluntary retirement, I reverted to the rank of O-5 because I did not have three years in grade,” he said.
He had thought a “letter of reprimand, still a career killer, would have been fine” and consulted legal counsel.
Blaser says, of all the actions the Guard took after the incident, “one [out] of three were fair.”
The NCO who videotaped the ceremony “voluntarily resigned from his first sergeant position” because he thought his behavior wasn’t appropriate, and “was given a letter of reprimand.”
Brown’s re-enlistment ceremony was negated and she will not be allowed to re-enlist, Blaser said, adding he has heard she intends to appeal the decision for fear she will be unemployed as a single mother.
Blaser saw no point in appealing his own case.
“I saw no way that the appeal was going to be overwritten,” he said.
Haston is the decision authority for all personnel matters for the state.
Regarding the Air Force Instruction he is accused of violating, Blaser said he didn’t break any laws in terms of fraud, waste or abuse. Not having the oath memorized and not raising his right hand are not violations, he adds.
“It’s perfectly acceptable to read the re-enlistment oath. I’ve talked with wing commanders, former commanders. They’ve read it for the fear of messing it up,” he said.
Critics from all grades say it’s preferable to have it memorized.
“On the re-enlistment instruction, nowhere does it talk about raising of the right hand except for” the person swearing the oath, he said.
He was packed up and out of his office by April 18.
‘Social media is here to stay’
In the end, the intentions of those participating in the ill-fated re-enlistment ceremony were not malicious, Blaser said. He faults himself with a lapse in judgment for not conducting the ceremony in a dignified or professional manner.
He says he’d seen weird or out-of-regulation re-enlistments before, some recently documented by Task & Purpose after the dinosaur puppet re-enlistment went viral on social media.
“I have seen or heard of other re-enlistments conducted in varying degrees, but … this was her re-enlistment. If this is how she wanted to do her last re-enlistment … I was OK with it,” he said, adding his nearly 29-year military career influenced his decision to let her have a morale-boosting commemoration.
Blaser doesn’t think this will be the end of foolish, viral videos.
“I want senior leadership at all levels [to know] that social media is here to stay,” he said. “Had they taken a few days, and taken a breath and let this firestorm blow over … but still, this is going to happen more and more.”
He’s looking for new opportunities post-retirement.
Of the 10,557 days he served, he said, he regrets only three minutes — the time it took to make the video.
“Remember your wingman. Never leave an airman behind. Go Guard,” he said.
This story originally appeared on Military.com
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