Cold War

Mark Allen

Cold War Oral History Interview
US Marine Corps / NJ Air National Guard
Date: October 17, 2018
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Chandler Campbell


New Jersey native Mark Allen, born in July 1953, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who served in both the Marine Corps and the New Jersey National Guard. He served as a radar intercept officer, a weapons systems officer, and a command navigator during the Cold War, Desert Storm, and Desert Shield eras.  Allen was also involved in the still classified 1977-1978 Bosnia and Kosovo campaigns, Operation Deliberate Force, Operation Allied Force, and Operation Deny Flight, South and North.

Allen grew up in a military-oriented family. His brother was a Marine who served a tour in Vietnam, and Allen followed his footsteps into the Marine Corps. Their mother had been an aircraft “spotter” based in Glassboro, New Jersey during World War II. She was tasked with spotting and identifying aircraft coming in and out of the state, and then informing higher headquarters via radio with her findings. Their father worked on building battleships at the Philadelphia Navy Yard during the war.

As a youngster, Allen was a sea cadet in Camden, New Jersey. As a young adult, he attended Rider University and joined the Marine Corps Platoon Leader’s Class (PLC) program, the equivalent of ROTC for the Corps. Allen’s plans were to work at his uncle’s thriving law practice part-time, and eventually become an attorney. After completing the Marine Corps program successfully, his plans then changed.

Mark Allen at the Museum.

Allen’s basic training in the PLC program took place during the summers when he was in college. Prior to his commissioning as a second lieutenant upon graduation in 1975, an aviation student took Allen up in a T-28 aircraft, which immediately sparked his interest in flying. Down the road, he eventually participated in an inter-service transfer, when he realized he wanted to fly for the New Jersey Air National Guard.

Allen’s time in the Marine Corps included being a part of the first Marine squadron to deploy to the Navy’s WESTPAC, or Western Pacific. He was promoted to captain, and his gunnery sergeant, who taught Allen more about being a Marine than anyone he had ever met, “pinned on his bars.” His squadron was known as “Trip Tre” (333) and made many deployments, including NATO’s Operations Deliberate Force and Allied Force.

Allen’s Marine Corps duty stations included Denmark, the Azores islands, the Philippines, Balikesir Turkey, and other locations which must remain classified. He often faced extremely poor living conditions while serving in the USMC; he had a completely different experience once he joined the National Guard. During his time in the Marine Corps, Allen knew a handful of men killed in the attempted rescue during the Iran hostage crisis, when he was deployed to Balikesir. He also experienced the differences in the military structure between the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. For example, Allen recalled that Ronald Reagan’s administration was able to build an extremely strong military.

The process of transferring out of the USMC and into the New Jersey Air National Guard took roughly six months. There is not much comparison between Allen’s experiences in the Marine Corps and the National Guard, because of how different they were. For example, he recalled that his “water survival training” for the Air National Guard was more like a beach party in contrast to his training in the Marine Corps. As a Marine, Allen was using ripped gloves and extremely old equipment that was in terrible condition. Once he became part of the National Guard, he was issued brand new equipment and flight suits.

Allen’s squadron was included in the “NATO Tiger Association,” which was created for further solidarity among NATO air forces, and they participated in the 1988 Tiger Meet in Italy. These meetings were Cold War related, as well as public relations exercises for the countries involved. During his time in the NJANG, Allen went to Kosovo twice: once strictly for “fact finding” and the second time because he was activated. What Allen remembered most from the Desert Shield and Desert Storm eras is that the command structure at the time tried very hard to get the National Guard involved in the war. He explained that the Guard was flying “escort missions” just to have a presence there.

After Kosovo, Allen decided to retire from the Air National Guard. The mission left him feeling like he was no longer part of an organized effort, and he believed the civilian leaders back home in the United States did not exert the same passion the troops were putting forth. Without much contemplation, Allen chose somebody to take over his squadron and retired quietly. He did not want any type of celebration to honor his many years serving the country. Allen did not keep in touch with anyone he knew from the USMC or the NJANG. One organization that he participated in is “Operation Fireside,” where he can feed and spend time with military recruits on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and he looked forward to doing this every year. This oral history interview included the most Allen had ever shared about his time serving in the United States Marine Corps and New Jersey Air National Guard.