Community Spotlight: A salute to our Siesta Key commander

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David Blackwood is making the most of his final years at Club B South

Q: David, your family has Northeast roots but also a long history with our island, owning one of the 1950s originals in the Sanderling Club that you affectionately call “Club B South.” Share with us your Siesta Key history and some details about the house.
A: I grew up outside of Boston. When I was a teenager my parents bought a two-bedroom vacation condo on Sanibel Island, but when I left to attend the Naval Academy in 1987 they decided to upgrade to a house so they could live in Florida for six months of the year. The “empty-nesters” wanted to evolve into “snowbirds!” After finding the beautiful Siesta Key beaches and Sarasota golf clubs, they knew this was the place.

They landed on a somewhat modest one-story, two-bedroom beach house with a separate guest cottage in the back. Yes, one of the original bungalow-style homes built during the Siesta Key building boom in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Over the last four decades, most of the Sanderling Club houses have been torn down one by one and rebuilt into magnificent mansions, similar to what has happened all over the island.

But as far as the “Club B South,” Mom and Dad liked it just the way it was and made essentially no changes to the property, especially to the house’s interior — same super-thick wall-to-wall shag carpeting, wood paneling, crazy — almost psychedelic — wallpaper, Formica countertops, original pressed wood-like cabinets, plumbing, electrical, etc. It’s like visiting a Brady Bunch-era time capsule, but I love it. They don’t build them like this anymore!

Q: You have had a distinguished career in the Navy. Commander Dave, how about some of your military history, sir?
A: I retired fairly recently after 32 years in uniform and what I considered a varied and interesting career as a Naval officer. I received a commission upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991 and, after specialty training in San Diego, I reported aboard the amphibious ship USS Peleliu, which was noteworthy for its support of the coalition forces withdrawal from Somalia in 1994.
I next served at the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific outside Tokyo, followed by assignments to the Navy Office of Information in Dallas, the U.S. Forces Korea Command in Seoul, and by 2000 the Navy Chief of Information Headquarters in the Pentagon where I was lucky to survive the near destruction of my office on 9/11. That dark day marked a turning point in my career. By that time, after 10 years of relatively peaceful assignments, I was planning to resign my commission and start a civilian career, but now we were at war, and I knew I couldn’t walk away. I extended my tour in the Pentagon through 2003 and the first few years of the war on terror.
In early 2004 I transferred to the Navy Reserves. But as we were obviously still in the war on terror, there were plenty of full-time assignments needing experienced leadership. For example, in 2005 I mobilized to Djibouti, Africa and established a formal liaison office between my international base in the Horn of Africa and U.S. Navy Central Command in Bahrain. Over the ensuing years I had extended orders to the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, as well as the Office of Chief of Naval Operations, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon.

In 2010, I again sought out a chance to deploy to the combat zone and spent a year at coalition bases in and around Kabul, analyzing the politics of the growing Afghan government, developing a new liaison office inside the Afghan Presidential Palace, and helping organize an office to study the Afghan population. This was a highlight of my career and, based largely on this deployment, in 2012 I was selected in a nationwide competition to receive the Admiral Rufus Taylor Award for Leadership, presented annually by the National Military Intelligence Association.
After returning from Afghanistan, I served with the Office of Naval Intelligence and Navy Criminal Investigative Service at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island before joining the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, synchronizing with Joint Staff and other Intelligence Community counterparts on oversight of Special Operations activities.
Another highlight came in 2015 when I was picked for a six-month tour to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels as the acting senior US Intelligence officer to the US Military Delegation, providing situational awareness into US/NATO collection efforts supporting coalition operations against ISIS, the Ukraine/Russia crisis, and other regional threats against NATO allies’ security.
When I returned from Belgium in late 2015, I came back to Siesta Key again to visit Dad and Mom. It was pretty clear they needed some help by this time, and thus I decided to scale back on military assignments to spend time at Club B South with them — at least during their six-month stays.
Sadly, in the summer of 2017, my father passed away and Mom decided she would rather stay in New England to remain closer to family. Shortly thereafter I returned to full-time work in the Washington, D.C. area at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and then found a final two-year Navy Reserve assignment at the Navy Yard in D.C. with Navy’s History and Heritage Command, becoming a certified Naval Historian and leading small Combat Documentation Teams deploying to conduct oral interviews and collect historical artifacts associated to various overseas Naval operations.
I formally retired in 2019 and was in Siesta Key when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. I spent much of 2020 and 2021 hunkered down at Club B South, avoiding the shutdowns and riots taking place in Washington, D.C. I have recently started a new project as a professional consultant to a firm providing expertise to raise funds and donations directly supporting military and veteran non-profit foundations and charities, to include a $250 million campaign to build a modern National Museum of the US Navy in D.C. at the old Navy Yard in partnership with my former office of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

Q: A few months back you attended an annual charitable event in Boston that is meaningful to you. Tell us about that.
A: Absolutely, although this has nothing to do with my new position as a military non-profit fundraiser. The Boston Red Sox Foundation’s “Run to Home Base” is a 9K charity run through Boston, with a ceremonial finish stepping on Fenway Park’s home plate!
I have been personally participating since its inception in 2012. For 14 years the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General Hospital have teamed up to conduct this important fundraiser where 100% of the money raised goes directly for clinical care and support for our veterans and their families — those that have sacrificed in defense of our country. It might shock you to learn approximately one-in-four veterans suffer from the “invisible injuries” of PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury, plus on average 25 veterans commit suicide a day. We’ve seen a 20% increase in veteran suicides since the COVID pandemic.
In my humble opinion, the federal government does not do enough, but I am proud to help in some small way to raise vital funds to help fill the need. This year, more than 2,500 participants both in Boston and around the country raised nearly $3 million to help those impacted by the invisible wounds of war.
For more information, visit runtohomebase.org.

Q: Do you see your Siesta Key house staying in the family for generations to come?
A: Sadly, no. My siblings and I will likely sell Club B South when we inherit it and get the step-up-in-cost basis. I fully expect the old house will then quickly be torn down and rebuilt like so many other homes on the island.
But in the meantime, I am very appreciative of the place and take full advantage of it. As long as I am able, I will keep coming for extended visits, see old friends, host the occasional party, and spend whatever time I can walking one of the best beaches in the world.

Q: Which one do you prefer, the Siesta Key you first discovered or today’s version?
A: The Siesta Key I remember in my 20s and 30s and 40s doesn’t look all that different than today — at least on the surface.
By the early 1990s, Siesta Key had already been largely built out — there were very, very few empty lots. The view up and down my 3-mile stretch of Crescent Beach looked mostly like it does today.
But look a bit closer and you can see the differences. Like the proverbial frog in the pot, slowly getting up to boiling, the changes taking place on Siesta Key have been gradual, the old one-story beach bungalows getting replaced one-by-one with four-story rental houses, going from accommodating a family of four to a party house of 20, and one car becomes five cars.
Slow season in May through July isn’t so slow anymore and peak season during spring break has become cursed by mile-long caravans of beach-goers trying to cross the bridges and all-day traffic jams up and down Midnight Pass.
I don’t want to sound like an old man yelling at people to stay off my lawn, and I soon enough won’t have skin in the game, but I hope the residents and leaders in the community act to slow the pace of development before it’s too late and the frog is cooked.
Who boils frogs, anyway?

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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