10th Mountain Division infantryman holds head high

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
George Allen of Watertown, N.Y. poses for a portrait outside of his parents' home in Birdseye on Dec. 19. "Every time I see this flag it helps me remind me why I signed up," Allen said. "It's always nice to have reminders of why you do the things you do." 


BIRDSEYE — Birdseye’s George Allen lives his best life as a member of the U.S. Army’s most-deployed unit: the 10th Mountain Division.

When the 25-year-old graduate of Forest Park High School rolls out of the rack in his barracks at Fort Drum, New York, he says he is waking up with a purpose. And nothing could make him more proud.

“I feel proud every day that I wake up part of the Army,” he says. “It’s given me an opportunity to give back to the country that’s given me so much. I just feel honored to have that opportunity to give back and follow in the footsteps of other great men who have done the same thing.”

With grandfathers who were World War II soldiers and a father who is an Air Force veteran, Allen wanted to follow in their footsteps, serve his country and, if need be, fight for freedom.

He signed up as an infantryman and was sent to a unit whose combat brigades are reported to have deployed more than 20 times to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. His days are filled with specialized training for being a warfighter in mountainous terrain and arctic cold. Field trips include an Army mountaineering school in Vermont. Allen trained there last January with the Vermont National Guard and it got so cold, even their M-4 rifles shivered.

He has been issued military extreme cold vapor barrier boots, nicknamed Mickey Mouse boots, and overwhites that turn a normal field jacket into a snow camouflage parka.

He has learned that, when given a time to report, that really means he must arrive 15 minutes before the reporting time.

He has also trained at Fort Polk, Louisiana, but he’s not sharing details because soldiers just do not talk about unit movements and training specifics.

He is the poster boy for operational readiness, and he loves all of it, even though he’s not crazy about snow and ice. When he left Fort Drum, Allen says, there was 3 feet of snow on the ground.

But, he adds, his unit’s camaraderie can’t be beat.

“The connection between the guys in my platoon is really good,” he says. “Everything about the training is really fun. It all depends on the guys you have around you. It is what you make it.”

Allen started infantry basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, during October 2016. He was a little miffed at sister Laura Grimm, a current Huntingburg resident who had once lived in Georgia, for not warning him that it gets cold in the Peach State.

“I thought it was going to be warm all the way through,” he says.

When it was about time to divulge permanent duty assignments, Allen’s senior drill instructor, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division who had taken a shine to him, came over to Allen in formation, whispered he was going to the 10th Mountain Division and threw in that he was going to freeze.

“He liked me, so he was pretty happy I was going,” Allen says.

The 10th Mountain Division was formed in World War II for rugged mountain warfare in Nazi-occupied Italy.

During a bloody 1945 battle for Mount Belvedere, an important enemy artillery observation point, a 10th Mountain second lieutenant was wounded. His name: Robert Dole, the 95-year-old former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate.

George Allen of Watertown, N.Y. poses for a portrait outside of his parents' home in Birdseye on Dec. 19.

Allen’s specific unit within the division is the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment. It’s World War II history dates to Corregidor Island and the Bataan Peninsula, west of Manila Bay. When Bataan fell to the Japanese in April 1942 and it became obvious the 31st would be overrun, the unit’s colors and a special silver punch bowl, referred to as the Shanghai Bowl, were buried on the island to keep them out of the enemy’s hands.

Some of the 31st’s soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March and three years of captivity retrieved the bowl and the unit standard in 1945.

The Shanghai Bowl now rests in a glass case in his battalion’s headquarters at Fort Drum, Allen says.

During Allen’s time with the battalion, a Bataan Death March memorial event was held near New York City, and he got to be a part of it.

“They did a parade, and I got selected to go,” Allen says, adding that learning unit history is one of a new infantryman’s first duties.

Allen is currently among Dubois County’s service members who are home for the holidays. His parents, Ed and Betty Allen, with the help of Jasper’s Redstone taxi service, picked him up at the Evansville airport Dec. 15 in a limousine.

His parents are nothing but supportive, he says. But perhaps the person most happy to have him home is his 7-year-old nephew Gunnar Grimm.

“His birthday was actually the day after I left for basic training,” Allen says. “They all miss me a lot. But I think, if there was a competition of who misses me the most, it would probably be Gunnar. He’s 7, and he’s stoked for me being home for Christmas and everything.”

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