By: Anna Maria Trusky
When Gregory Bliven was only thirteen years old, he lost both his parents in a devastating fire at their home in Montville. He looked to the U.S. Army to help provide the life skills and guidance he missed through his teenage years, and it delivered.
“The U.S. Army and then the National Guard gave me the tools I needed to succeed in life,” says Greg, who now makes his home in Bradford, Rhode Island. ”The Military helped me in so many ways. It taught me self-discipline and teamwork, and gave me the sense of purpose I needed.”
Greg joined the U.S. Army in October 1975, soon after the Vietnam War had ended. He did basic training in Fort Lewis, washington. ”I served with many men who had just returned from Vietnam, and I felt humbled when they told me of their experiences,” says Greg. ”I read as many books about the war as I could so I could have a better sense of what they had gone through.”
During his three years in the Army, Greg studied pharmacology and worked out in the field in M.A.S.H.-style tents where servicemen and women could be treated for injuries and illnesses. He joined the National Guard promptly after his tour was up. ”I loved wearing the uniform and serving my country, and I felt that the Guard would be a good fit for me,” Greg says. He started out in the aviation unit in Groton as a sergeant working with helicopters. Eventually, Greg’s platoon leader encouraged him to apply for Officer Candidates School. He attended the Connecticut State Military Academy, called Camp O’Neill at the time for Governor William O’Neill. He graduated with honors – number one in his class – and became a commissioned officer. He was put in charge of an infantry unit where he rose to the rank of Executive Officer and Company Commander.
In 1985, while Greg was working at the academy as an instructor, his life took a dramatic turn. ”I was going through a divorce and got custody of my two young daughters. When they would see me ironing my uniform to report to National Guard duty, they’d cry and beg me not to go,” Greg recalls. He made the decision to leave the Guard so he could be there for his daughters – a decision Greg never regretted as he watched them grow up into happy, successful, well-educated young women. ”They’re my best friends,” he says proudly.
In 2009 Greg retired from Pfizer, where his father had worked, after a long career that started in the manufacturing plant in 1974. While in the National Guard he went to UCONN and URI, earning undergrad and graduate degrees in pathology and business. By the time he retired, he’d moved up to Business Process Lead Scientist reporting to the Executive Director of Pathology.
When he’s not riding his motorcycle, Greg uses his talents as an actor. He acted in many plays and movies, and worked – with his faithful Black Lab, Lily – in the film Great Hope Springs, recently shot in Stonington and starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. He is a regular player at the Granite Theater in Westerly. ”Theater filled a void left behind by the Military,” Greg says. ”Teamwork and discipline are very important to the process of rehearsing for and putting on a play, as is the desire to do your very best – something that I always felt when I was in the Army National Guard.”