Incoming MCPO-CG Reserve Forces – Master Chief Mark Allen has high hopes and a big heart

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – His face was as expression-filled as if he was waiting to explain what it felt like to win the lottery.

Master Chief Petty Officer Mark Allen, reserve command master chief, Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, had a cheeky, almost-sneaky grin stretched across his face. He stood patiently while I quickly shuffled through my notes and positioned the chairs we were about to sit down in.

Other than our occasional chit-chat, the galley and adjoining chief’s mess were quiet before we started the interview.

Master Chief Petty Officer Mark Allen

Allen has been nominated by Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp, Jr., commander, Atlantic Area, to serve as the Coast Guard’s fourth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard reserve force. Allen will relieve the current MCPO-CGRF, Master Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey D. Smith, during a change of watch ceremony scheduled for May 15, 2010 in Alexandria, Va.

Papp will serve as the next Coast Guard commandant and will work closely with Allen and Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Leavitt, who has been selected to serve as the 11th active duty master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard.

The master chief seemed antsy in the chair, happily moving his arms like they were tied to puppet strings. His eyes gleamed and were as wide as his smile. His animated demeanor was in no way a reflection of the seriousness he expressed for the job he is about to undertake.

Allen said his new position will encompass the responsibility of serving as an information resource and advocate for all Coast Guard members, particularly focusing his efforts on the 8,000-person strong reserve force.

The Coast Guard reserve force is the vital component of the active duty Coast Guard. Reservists must be ready at all times to respond and mobilize for all threats and hazards at home and overseas.

Allen said he will work with Smith to make certain initiatives already underway continue without a hitch. One of the biggest challenges Smith said he will be passing down to Allen is enhancing reservist recruiting efforts to gain the authorized strength of 10,000 reserve Coast Guardsmen.

“…In my view we must simultaneously address impediments to current recruiting efforts while building capacity and competency to grow the force in the future,” said Smith.

As MCPO-CGRF Allen will be required to travel a broad geographic scope, and it will give him the opportunity to visit and support members throughout the entire Coast Guard. Allen and Leavitt will work as a team to serve as primary communication conduits between the new commandant and the crew.

“Oh yea! I love to travel, to meet people and to help Guardians succeed. I will take the issues and the successes of the crew and share them with the commandant, and in turn, I will share and enforce the commandant’s policies within the crew,” said Allen.

Because he will soon to be serving in one of the highest enlisted ranks possible, I asked Allen about some of his memories from when he was a second or third class petty officer. Allen remembered back to his early career, when he was cleaning toilets and shining wardroom silver. He remembered back to when becoming a master chief seemed so far away.

Like many junior Coast Guard members, Allen had his share of hard times while earning his way up through the ranks. He joked about when he used to be his units designated toilet cleaner.

“They used to call me ‘the head man,’ and not because I was in charge,” he laughed.

I asked him what he did to help make his career so successful, and if he had any advice for his younger shipmates.

“Motivation is the key to advancement; the challenge drove my career,” he said.

Allen always wanted more. More responsibility, more experience, and more opportunity. The way you can achieve these things in the Coast Guard is to advance. But it is important to remember that being the new guy, taking orders, scrubbing decks and washing dishes are necessary to help build character, appreciation and work ethic.

We discussed character in the Coast Guard.

“Oh!” Allen said, “Hold on.”

The master chief jumped up and walked over to the chiefs mess table. He unzipped a dark-colored book bag lying slouched on the table top and began to rummage through it. He pulled out the book Character in Action by Donald T. Phillips. It was littered with yellow page tabs.

I always keep this book with me, he said. He held the book firmly and appeared less perky than he had just a few minutes before. He explained that the book recapped historic stories about Coast Guard members who demonstrated true service to humanity and whose actions defined the Coast Guard’s core values.

One of the challenges Allen will face in his new role is to encourage teamwork between people who have nothing except the Coast Guard in common. A task he doesn’t expect to be too difficult since he said he strongly believes honor, respect and devotion to duty are values firmly instilled inside most Coast Guard members.

One of the stories Allen recalled from the book was about Seaman Apprentice William R. Flores, who lost his life while trying to save his shipmates just days after reporting to the 180-foot Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, a buoy tender that collided with the oil tanker Capricorn Jan. 28, 1980, in the mouth of Tampa Bay, Fla. After many of Flores’ shipmates had already abandoned the doomed ship, Flores stayed behind and gave his life to try and help save others.

Allen’s round, golden-framed glasses could not hide the tear droplets beginning to spill from his eyes. Allen was not embarrassed, but seemed proud to show his passion and commitment to his service. He sucked back his tears and smiled.

Allen said he loves the Coast Guard because the people within the organization are very much like family members. During basic training, Coast Guardsmen are trained to have respect and honor for themselves, their shipmates and for civilians.

An hour had already passed. Lunch-time was getting close and hungry sailors trickled into the galley and the chief’s mess. After we wrapped up the interview I thanked the master chief and he graciously thanked me in return. His joyful handshake affirmed his enthusiasm and the love he has for his job and for the Coast Guard.

Allen encompasses all the qualities expected from a master chief. He is equally intimidating and approachable, comedic and serious. Most importantly, he is impressively knowledgeable about the Coast Guard and its people. With more than three decades of loyal service and experience to guide him, Allen is ready, eager and will undoubtedly devote all of his knowledge, skills and compassion to serving the people of the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve Force.

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