After a quick-paced month at the helm of a longstanding $300 million military operation, Col. Allan Dollison said he has not been surprised by the demanding nature of the mission.
“I expected a lot of work to do, and I haven’t been disappointed,” he said, from Eskan Village—a secure joint-service housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Dollison is the program manager for the United States Army-Military Assistance Group, commonly referred to as USA-MAG and formerly known as MOI-MAG. He leads a team of deployed U.S. service members, contractors and Department of the Army Civilians who train and advise the Saudi Ministry of Interior's security forces on defending their nation from terrorist threats and protecting critical infrastructure throughout the Kingdom.
The protection of those facilities has a considerable impact on the global economy and stability in the Middle East, making the USA-MAG mission a critical component of U.S. foreign policy.
USA-MAG is a security cooperation program that operates under the State Department and currently supports 14 Saudi-funded foreign military sales cases to the tune of $300 million.
This mission might be a tall order for the average person, but there’s nothing average about the 54-year-old L.A. native and Army Reserve Officer whose day job is a licensed attorney in California.
Dollison said he looks forward to supporting this important foreign policy mission but, more importantly, he understands the real-world impact of his job.
“We are training the people who are responsible for Saudi’s national security, so, yes, I am a firm believer in the program,” he said. “It’s vital to the Kingdom.”
He’s not alone.
Dollison described the USA-MAG team extremely competent professionals who grasp how their day-to-day tasks shape the security environment. And he wants to them to know they have his full support and backing. “It is very important for a leader to demonstrate that teamwork starts at the top,” said Dollison.
“I want to know their ideas about how to solve problems,” he said, “and I will always have their backs. We must be united in the goal of succeeding. The stakes are too high if we don’t.”
Dollison said he expects 100 percent effort and he promises the same in return. He said his door will always be open and he is looking forward to input and suggestions form the team.
“You will know I am your commander as I lead from the front, but I want your knowledge to be mine, and to be the team’s, because shared knowledge is how an organization becomes a better organization.”
He said he believes strongly in Mission Command, and “I have a strong moral and ethical compass. I always make sure I do what is right.” And when he challenges the team on something said or done, “it is because either your view or my view is wrong, but it’s how we work together to overcome those challenges that prove a successful team.”
As for the experiences and personal qualities that make him uniquely qualified for his current assignment, Dollison said they began long ago.
IN THE BEGINNING
Born to Midwest parents who moved to California in the 1950s, Dollison was raised as the youngest of three children in the suburbs of Orange Country, just outside of the shadow of Disneyland.
But life wasn’t enchanted for the young Dollison. He was a serious, hardworking young man with a penchant for knowledge. At a young age, he wasn’t quite sure where life would lead him, but somehow he knew he would end up where he was supposed to be.
No stranger to excellence, Dollison maintained a superior grade point average and ran an astounding 4:58-minute mile at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach, California, before attending California State University, Fullerton. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Military Science through the campus’ ROTC program, and with the untimely death of his father, Dollison was ready for the discipline and direction that a military career would offer.
It turned out to be one of his greatest life choices.
“I am absolutely convinced it was the right decision, because I developed and grew as a young man,” said Dollison. “It gave me discipline. It gave me purpose. It gave me a bearing. Most importantly it made me a part of an organization larger and more important than myself. At this point, I cannot imagine my life having not served.”
Dollison began his military career in 1991 in the California National Guard. One year after he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery, he would support the response to the 1992 LA Riots—the infamous outbreak of violence, looting and arson that erupted after a jury acquitted four white policemen for excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King.
Dollison was studying for his law school finals when the Rodney King verdict was announced, and remembers it clearly.
“I knew it was going to be like a powder keg,” said Dollison.
Over 50 people died, thousands were arrested and property damage tallied $1 billion, making the riots one of the most-devastating civil disruptions in American history.
“My overarching memory, is that our unit was the force that brought calm, lowered the temperature and helped bring a stable peace to these communities,” he said, pointing out that Guardsmen live in the very communities they protect.
Although his unit didn’t receive much guidance, one thing was clear. “Our primary task was to be a positive presence and convince the residents to trust us,” said Dollison. “It was clear that the rioters were upset with all facets of government. It took about one and a half days for us to get on the streets (of Compton and South LA), but once we did, we turned it around pretty quickly.”
Dollison returned to school, took his finals and graduated from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California in 1994.
Two years later, as if fate would remind him of his sworn oath, his unit responded to one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history—the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
At least 57 people died, and thousands more were injured and displaced when a 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck California’s San Fernando Valley just after 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994. Property damage was estimated to be $13–50 billion, equivalent to between $22–$90 billion today.
In 1999 Dollison transferred to the Army Reserve and held various assignments, including two deployments to Afghanistan and one deployment to Iraq as a civil affairs officer.
While making time for this family, serving in multiple war zones and responding to historic moments of civil unrest and natural disaster, Dollison continued to work as a criminal prosecutor, public defender and personal injury lawyer in Northern and Southern California courts.
And he’s okay with the organized chaos that his life appears to be. Dollison said he has finetuned a balance between his civilian and Reserve careers and sees them greatly complementing each other.
At the end of his yearlong assignment in Riyadh, Dollison will return to the West Coast, a law practice, and his family. He is married with two children. When he redeploys, he will likely retire, with no regrets.
Dollison said he’s lived some of his best moments as an Army officer. He’s learned a lot about life and a lot about himself. He learned to follow and he learned to lead. He learned about training management, resource development, managing diverse geographically dispersed teams and running complex organizations.
But more than anything, he learned just how valuable friendships are.
“I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie and life experiences of the military, but I most enjoyed the relationships and the people I served with over 30-plus years, at all levels,” said Dollison.
For now, however, his full focus is on his last assignment.
“To be given this awesome and important responsibility at this time and stage in my career is incredibly humbling,” he said. “I am determined to succeed.”