I like what T.S. Elliot wrote. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” I use a metaphor, very complex, when translating for my kids. If you don’t take the shot, you’ll never score. It’s, of course, a goal thing. We’re soccer players, we like goals. As kids, then cadets, many of us BIRDS probably had goals of playing pro soccer, designing the next great invention or flying cool jets . After graduation, a few of us got paid to play. Some of us stayed planted on terra firma, enjoying the rigors of a varied and challenging military career. Others ventured skyward, slipping surlies and traveling the planet. One of us, a fellow soccer alum, took good aim and achieved goals that took him places only a handful are lucky enough to visit. John Blaha (’65) was an Air Force man’s son. He grew up all over, but calls San Antonio home. Way late by today’s standards, his first soccer experience occurred on the playground of his high school junior year in Wiesbaden, Germany. Where else?! He was your typical cadet in training. Good grades, good athlete, good kid. He entered the class of ’65 with three other defensively minded teens, Rodman, Gritsavage, and Udicello. The four of them would form a unit, reminiscent for me of the ’77 line of Olson, Twohig, Wynn (‘78ers) and Weiland (’79). Blaha and buds were nicknamed the “Backfield 4,” punishing opponents their senior season. Although the stats for that year are floating somewhere in the archival heavens, recollection has it the Backfield 4 might be just behind the ’77 boys in least goals allowed in a season.
John enjoyed his academy years. Majoring in engineering, he also tried his hand, both hands, at baseball and gymnastics. He dreamed of flying fighters right after graduating, but held off to pursue a masters in Astro at Purdue. Willie (you young guys will have to Google that) in Phoenix followed, where he met his life mate Brenda, mother to their three children. Then came the F-4, A-37, F-102, F-106, F-104, 361 missions of which were in Vietnam. Just four years removed from the battles on the USAFA pitch, while in the 3rd TFW at Bien Hoa, he created a soccer team to play against the local Vietnamese. The friendly match between field enemies was in stark contrast to the real battle waging beyond the base fence.
Next was test pilot at Edwards, test pilot with the RAF and, finally, in 1980, he joined the ranks of which only 335 Americans have done to date, United States Astronaut. He would fly 5 space missions, two as commander, two as pilot, one as a scientist, in all, logging 161 days in space. He flew with cosmonauts in 1996/1997 to spend 4 months in the Mir space station. Afterward, his physical state was much like that following a loss and the subsequent Coach Carmen Anillo rehabilitation practice. Well, maybe just a bit worse. Took him six weeks to feel normal again, six months for a full recovery. In 1995, he was elected into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame,. At the induction, NASA said he and fellow inductees, “helped stretch the boundaries of the space shuttle fleet's capabilities.” That, of course, should have been more than enough, but when he returned to his “home” town of San Antonio, he joined the executive management group at USAA.
John attributes his successes to setting achievable short term goals while always working to reach the long term ones. For those of us still on the ascent, he offers maybe a cliché, but his success is it’s testament, “you only live life once, so go for it.” To punctuate, he adds, don’t ever forget, “you are working for America.” From humble beginnings, past the hallowed ramp and green athletic fields, out of this world, John Blaha has certainly gone for it. Yes, our fellow BIRD shot for the upper 90’s and truly found how far he could go.