CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
“He’s very detail oriented as you can see here in his office,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Rohan A. Josephs, regarding the 1,670 challenge coins, Ka-Bar knives, photographs and patches displayed in the III Marine Expeditionary Force communication chief’s office.
The mementos are displayed in five frames, a cabinet, a desk display, shadow-boxes and so on, with each in perfect alignment. Every keepsake holding a different meaning from his time in the service, combat deployments and overseas assignments including:11th Marine Artillery Regiment, 9th Communication Battalion and Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego in California, Marine Wing Communications Squadron-18 and 7th Communication Battalion in Okinawa Japan, Marine Wing Communications Squadron-48 in Illinois, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Saudi and Kuwait, Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
“I enjoy coming into work today as much as I did almost 31 years ago,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Arthur Allen III.
With that much time as a U.S. Marine under his belt, he said he was more than ready to share some of his memorable moments.
The Gulf War, 1990: Marines are making their way from Al Jubail to Safaniya, Saudi Arabia, where they would stay until the commencing of Desert Storm, a fitting name for the operation.
“The closer we got to the border (of Kuwait), the darker it got,” said Allen, describing the air thick with smog from oil wells and oil fields ablaze at the order of Saddam Hussein. “In midday, visibility was probably a few inches from your face, and the other thing was that it was basically raining oil.”
Enduring long convoys through fogs of oil, getting soaked in oil, inhaling oil, seeing miles of oil, smoke and fires and the constant threat of IEDs, they slowly made their way along until they passed the border into Kuwait.
“There was always a risk of harm and death in some cases,” said Allen. “That was a great example of learned leadership. I (then sergeant) was as afraid as everybody else, but you have to show your Marines that you have to overcome that adversity and do what you have to do. That taught us a lot, and we had to grow up really fast.”
One of the more important life lessons he said he learned was to be a friend and family member away from home – a counselor and a shoulder to cry on.
“You get to know people so well, so very well,” said Allen. “In most cases, if not all cases, you establish life-long friendships. Going on deployment with someone is profound … and make it back home with. There is no statute of limitations on friendships that you establish with those you deploy with and that’s one thing I’ll never forget.”
But, not all his memorable moments were in the field.
Camp Pendleton, California, 1986-1988: Lance Cpl. Arthur Allen III is standing in line for chow and notices his battalion sergeant major standing behind him. After greeting him, they talk about home, his well-being and the sergeant major asked him if there was anything he wanted to bring to his attention.
“I thought it was a loaded question,” said Allen. “I was kind of afraid of what to say. I thought it might come back to me and my unit, but I decided to tell him that the chow hall wasn’t giving enough portions.”
Later on the sergeant major invited Allen to lunch so they could observe the service together. The sergeant major agreed the portions were inadequate. The sergeant major talked to the chief of the mess hall and resolved the issue.
“I really had a sense of achievement and a sense of worth,” said Allen. “That was a real defining moment. Man, I’m a junior Marine and somebody listened to my opinion and did something about it. That really encouraged me, and his name is Richard W. Smith (retired as Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton sergeant major).”
Okinawa, present day: Allen is an active part of the community, constantly volunteering and his passion as a Marine is still strong.
“He is a Marine 24 hours of the day,” said Sabrina R. Allen, his wife. “The one thing that stands out the most for me on the outside, is the times he’s spent with, volunteered with and took some Marines with him to do the multiple sclerosis camp, and those are the times you see the cheerful brightness and gung ho funny guy in him.”
He takes the Marine approach for everyday tasks as well.
“He is the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association president of the Okinawa branch,” said Josephs. “I remember one of the meetings. I found it amusing. I was helping him tear down afterward and I saw bags for posters, fliers and where everything was supposed to go. I remember everything was labeled as ‘This goes here. This goes there. No, no, no, that goes in this box over here …”
Josephs used a phrase he and Allen were familiar with from boot camp assignments, “You make it Marine proof. You put the name on it. You put the name on the spot, and that’s where it goes.”
Allen has served more than 30 years – but with a tight grip – he is passing the baton to the next generation of Marines. He is retiring this year.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d go to Boot Camp again and I’d do thirty years again,” said Allen. “I sincerely believe that because that’s just how much I’ve enjoyed my career.”