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November 23, 2011

Marine in Afghanistan values Oklahoma ties

STILLWATER, Okla. — This holiday, like many before, those serving in the armed forces will be away from their families.

For Master Sgt. Robert Allen, it is no different. Allen talked with the NewsPress via phone from Afghanistan this week.

While Allen said he speaks with his wife, Carla, and three children, Aaron, 17, Aiden, 15, and Lainie, 8, every three or four days, it can be hard to be away from loved ones, especially during the holidays.

“It is difficult to a degree,” said Allen. “You get used to it. It’s not unusual, but no matter what, it’s always difficult. When you have some down time, you’re not busy, your mind starts to think of home.

“You think of your children, you think of your relatives and the different festivities of the holidays that you’re used to, the traditions that you’re used to partaking in,” he said, “and you start to drift into those thoughts. But you stay pretty busy and that’s a good thing.”

Allen, a 1992 graduate of Claremore High School, met his wife while still in school. Living in Pawnee, where she had gone to school, Allen decided to join the military.

“I joined the Marine Corps from there in Stillwater,” said Allen. “I went to the recruiter’s station there in Stillwater and signed up while I was living in Pawnee.”

Allen said he had always wanted to join the military. His father had been in the Air Force and his grandfather in the Army. Among the reasons he joined the Marines were the uniform and stories of brotherhood.

“They posed the stigma of the tougher challenge,” said Allen. “The first in, the first to fight, the discipline and of course the brotherhood, the camaraderie.”

He recalls one of the stories he had heard that led to his decision. During the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, when victims were being recovered, the body of a Marine was found in the rubble. He had been spotted by another Marine, who had seen the blue material of a Marine’s trousers. The body was recovered and a U.S. flag was draped over him as he was taken from the site, he said.

“And I just thought that was quite amazing, how Marines never leave anyone behind,” said Allen.

He enlisted in 1996 at the age of 22. Now, at 39, he finds himself in Afghanistan — his first deployment to the site. He was deployed in September.

“I’m an aircraft rescue and firefighter in the Marine Corps by trade and my mission here, as well as my Marines’, is providing firefighting protection for all the aircraft at five different locations here in Afghanistan as well as providing a tactical rescue team in case of any aircraft mishap, crash or rescue of personnel from IEDS, things like that,” said Allen.

Allen and his family had moved to Yuma, Ariz., two months before he deployed. They haven’t lived in Pawnee since 1996. He said the support he has seen from his family and friends back home is amazing.

“Call me biased, but I favor Oklahoma,” said Allen. “I’ve been around quite a bit, from Japan to Korea, several different states from the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii, Afghanistan, Iraq — but there’s nothing like Oklahoma. Nothing like it. The support that I get, it’s amazing.”

Allen said that he likes to travel back to Oklahoma when he’s not deployed. He saves his leave in order to do so.

“No matter where I go, if it’s mentioned I’m in the military, there’s lots of support and smiles everywhere you go, handshakes and ‘Thank you for your service’, which means a lot,” said Allen. “Oklahomans definitely appreciate their military and are not hesitant to show that and express it, so that’s amazing.”

Back in Arizona, wife Carla said it’s been difficult without him at home.

“I have the three kids here, so we stay pretty busy,” she said.

Activities like meeting her children’s friends and parents and talking to family and friends help her cope, she said.

“I read my Bible a lot, to be honest,” she said. “I pray.”

She and the children look forward to his return.

“We miss him and we love him and we think of him every day,” she said. “We pray for his safety and we’re ready for him to come home. We’re very proud of him.”

The Marine said he expects to return home next spring.

A phone interview conducted with Master Sgt. Robert Allen can be heard on the right side of the page.

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