By Spc. A.M. LaVeyMarch 31, 2010
As the senior enlisted Paratrooper of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg ends his tour of duty, he reflects on the time he has spent here.
"When I arrived at Fort Bragg, I didn't have any real expectations, my job was a Soldier," said Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Allen, the outgoing senior enlisted advisor for the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. "My job hasn't changed since I have become a command sergeant major, but I have gotten more responsibility. My job is to take care of Soldiers and their families - that's what Soldiers want.
Allen, a Timmonsville, S.C., native ended his tour at Fort Bragg Wednesday as he passed the Corps' colors and the responsibility of approximately 48,000 Soldiers and their families to Command Sgt. Maj. Earl L. Rice, his replacement.
Allen, a senior noncommissioned officer with more than 35 years experience, first arrived here as an airborne infantryman with 1 Battalion, 505 Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82 Airborne Division. After he spent time as a mechanic, helicopter and anti-armor maintainer, and deployments to the Caribbean and the Middle East, as well as duty stations other than Fort Bragg; Allen returned to the 82 as a battalion and then the Division Support Command senior enlisted advisor. An assignment to 1 Corps Support Command followed, and then he reported to the Corps headquarters in 2006.
"If I had to guess back in the day if I would ever make the rank of command sergeant major, I would say no, mainly because I have held many different occupations", said Allen. "Now that I look back at it and that has only helped me more. I was probably more versed than most people who have sat in this chair before me."
"I have been on and off Fort Bragg since the mid-70s and have spent most of my adult life here in the Corps," said Allen. "I am proud of this Corps and proud to have been its command sergeant major."
During the late 70s, a young Staff Sgt. Allen spent some time on the other side of what used to be his desk.
"I remember very vividly the first time I stepped in this office, it was as an infantry soldier in 1/505," said Allen. "I went to the noncommissioned officer club one day after work and didn't see any parking places there but I did see a sign that said 'XVIII Airborne Corps command sergeant major parking only' and I turned into a genius that day. I looked to my left and looked to my right and backed that Chevy of mine right in there, then I went in the club and started cutting some rug with the rest of the guys and gals in there."
"When I came out there were two military policemen standing there and one of the MPs said the Corps command sergeant major just passed by and saw someone in his parking spot and he told us to find out who it was - needless to say - it was me," said Allen. "That stunt got me an invitation to this office - right here. Command Sgt. Maj. William T. Mixon was the Corps sergeant major at that time."
"I remember coming in his office and I was thinking that he was going to kill me," said Allen. When I reported in, he turned around in his chair, looked at me, and said 'have a seat Sgt. Allen.' I definitely wasn't expecting that and as I sat there, I was convinced that the chair was rigged with explosives."
Allen continued, "then he offered me a cup of coffee and looked at me and said, 'there are not many perks of being a command sergeant major, but those things that belong to the sergeant major you need to protect, because there will always be someone who will take things from you because you are a sergeant major. You'll get blamed for a lot of things and you won't get credit for a lot of the things you do.' And those were his words. That's a true story."
"That I will remember the most about being here at the Corps," said Allen. "That day he taught me what right looks like and taught me to do the right thing even when nobody is looking. He made me a better person. Had he beat me up about it, I wouldn't have gotten anything out of it."
"You don't have to flame out on everybody; sometimes wise council is what it takes," Allen said. "Sometimes talking and straight laying it out there for people rather than cursing them out is what I was taught in this office as a young sergeant."
Allen has many things to be credited for and many projects that he has worked on while at the Corps, but one that he finds most important are the creation of a better NCO Academy here.
"One of things that I have plugging at ever since I've been at this job is to figure out a way to get a NCO academy built here on Fort Bragg," said Allen. "Lt. Gen [Lloyd] Austin and I were all over it and we worked it hard before we deployed, came back and shortly after that Lt. Gen. Austin had to leave."
"When Lt. Gen. [Frank] Helmick came aboard and I sat him down and we talked about it, he jumped on that bear with both feet," said Allen. "We have finally have gained traction, mainly because he supported it. He worked the funding piece of it hard and I think we are finally are going to get the NCO Academy that our NCOs need and deserve."
"I worked it hard but I wouldn't have been able to do anything without Lt. Gen. Helmick's help and support," says Allen. "This tells me and shows me that he believes in what NCOs do, and that he knows that NCOs, especially here on Fort Bragg, need to have a quality facility."
Another project that Allen has given his attention to is the creation of a new state-of-the-art NCO club.
"We had to close the old club a couple of years ago because of asbestos," said Allen. "I remember being in a meeting one day, and someone was laying out the history of the NCO club to Lt. Gen. Austin and they showed all these charts and graphs of when the club started to lose money."
"I looked at all that he was showing us and I was listening to everything that he said, but what he did not know is that I been here since the 70s and I knew the history of that club," said Allen.
"We knew it was losing money," said Allen. "The problem was that we have never put any money in the club. That is the only club on base that we never spent any money on. We have done some renovations over the years, but never really got the club fixed"
"The last time I was in the club," said Allen, "there were buckets in the middle of the floor to collect rainwater that was coming from the roof and the wallpaper was peeling - but we still had NCOs going to the club. I was told that there would be a problem with funding, and I understand that, then they said the army frowns on clubs. I had to explain to them that we are not talking about putting in a bar and a pool table with a structure around it. That's not what I'm talking about."
"I'm talking about a state-of-the-art facility where Soldiers, NCOs, officers, and their families can go and enjoy a professionally prepared meal, can bring their computers and access the internet, and drink coffee," said Allen. "A facility that is large enough so that the units on Bragg have a place to hold their unit functions. Call it a club, call it what you want, but NCOs past and present deserve to have a facility."
"I was recently up at Fort Lee and saw how nice their club was and I almost got sick to my stomach that Fort Lee has one for their Solders but we can't get one for ours here on Bragg," said Allen. 'That is ridiculous."
"Again, to Lt. Gen. Helmick's credit, he jumped on that one as well," said Allen. "He gave some pretty clear guidance one what he wants to do. I expect pretty soon that we will see the groundbreaking on a new facility.
"The biggest population on Fort Bragg is NCOs and they deserve a facility," said Allen. "Over the years we have dragged our feet taking care of NCOs, we've said last year was 'the year of the NCO' but what the hell does it mean - and that is what soldiers ask me what does it mean' We need to get these things fixed."
The upcoming growth of Fort Bragg due to the Base Realignment and Closure commission has been a key focus of Allen's tenure here as well.
"I'm proud of Fort Bragg and all the expansion that we are doing and how Bragg is now one of the model installations of the world," said Allen. "It will continue to be a place where Soldiers and families will be proud to come home to."
"I remember living in those barracks on Ardennes Street, and now they are all gone," said Allen. "They were built in the 50s, and they were old when I got there. There are a lot of improvements that we are doing here on Fort Bragg and there are many great Americas, in uniform and out, that have made these things possible. Fort Bragg has come a long way, but there is still work to be done."
These projects and goals that Allen has set and accomplished here could not have been done without support from his battlebuddies, the current and former commanding generals of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
"I haven't really faced any challenges while I have been here because I have worked with some of the top general officers in the world," said Allen. They have made sure that I have always had a seat at the table and that my voice was heard. When you have a general officer who understands the value of his sergeant major and listens to his counsel, you won't have very many challenges in this business."
The position of senior enlisted advisor, a position he has held in different units - all but one at Fort Bragg, since the early 90s, has taught Allen many things and has also given him many lessons to teach to young and up-and-coming Soldiers.
"I have learned a lot from many different people and some of these things have nothing to do with a Soldier's rank," said Allen. "When some people are complaining, sometimes they just need someone to listen to. I tell my NCOs that everybody needs someone to listen to. I listen to a lot of people, a lot of soldiers. And I have learned from the newest private to the head guy on the totem pole is that if you can listen you will probably do well - but you have to listen."
"I also tell people, especially NCOs all the time, don't make your own rules," said Allen. "There is a reason why we put things in writing. Soldiers and NCOs will get themselves in trouble for making up their own rules."
Allen has this message for his successor:
"Enjoy your time at Fort Bragg while it lasts, because it goes so fast," said Allen. "The four years that I have been here at the Corps have flown by. I didn't even know I had been here four years until my assistant told me a couple weeks ago.
"This is one of the most rewarding positions I can think of, to be the command sergeant major of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg...hell, it doesn't get any better than that," said Allen.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Rice, you will be able to take care of a lot of Soldiers and their families just because of where you sit," said Allen. "Get out there, have fun, listen to what they say and above all, be approachable. If Soldiers can't come to you with their problems, then they really have nowhere else to go. Soldiers expect their senior NCOs to protect them from all the stuff that runs downhill, they expect their leaders to get them to the right place, at the right time with the right equipment to perform their mission. Soldiers also expect you to take care of them and their families."
A master-rated parachutist and jumpmaster since the early 80s, Allen has been on airborne status most of his career. He has jumped so many times, in fact, that he has forgotten how many jumps he even has.
"There has always been something about being a Paratrooper," said Allen. "To stand in the door of an aircraft and see all those behind you, people you live and work with. Paratroopers, man, it does my heart good."
"I've been jumping out of planes since the 70s and this is all I wanted to do," said Allen. "If I had the chance to change anything about my career, especially the time spent at Fort Bragg, I wouldn't change a thing.
"I was a teenager when I got here and now I'm an old guy and I have had a great time. I've had my fair share of jumps," said Allen, "lumps and bumps too."
Allen's next assignment has not been released.