WSJ speaker seeks to inspire graduates

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012



EDGARD — When West St. John’s seniors walk away from campus as graduates Saturday night, they’ll do so hoping to find great success in their adult lives.

If they achieve the level of success that their graduation’s keynote speaker has in his life, they’ll have done very well for themselves.

Lt. Col. Whitney Paul Allen Jr. is that speaker, a native of Wallace and a graduate of West St. John’s Class of 1989.

Allen is currently the operations chief for the Mission Support Battalion at Fort Knox and an Army intelligence officer.

He said he’s grateful for the chance to speak at Saturday’s ceremony and to give back to his community.

“It’s a great honor,” Allen said. “I can go back to my school and share some words of wisdom. I’m going back home, and I’m extremely happy to be able to do so.”

Allen will seek to connect with his audience during his speech — much as his job as operations chief calls for him to do. The Mission Support Battalion is a mobile and fixed exhibit battalion that helps support Army recruiting.

“We hold exhibitions … we’ll go into a high school, a college, and share Army stories with them,” said Allen. “Our mobile units have simulations — for example, a helicopter flight simulator — for people to try out. We talk about history and tell our stories …

“We have over 700 exhibits and over 200,000 visitors to our mobile and fixed exhibits. I oversee these things to make sure we’re utilizing the best ways to market and promote the opportunities that the Army provides.”

That includes making sure the most cutting-edge technology is on the road with the mobile exhibits and that social media is being deployed to promote the cause in the most effective way.

However, by trade, Allen is an Army intelligence officer.

“My job is to find the bad guys,” Allen said.

Allen gathers information on the nation’s enemies and how they operate — studying trends, patterns and estimated strengths and weaknesses and what offense the enemy has the capacity to mount.

Allen then uses that knowledge to devise a strategy to capture and defeat the target. Once that is established, he gives a recommendation of how to proceed to his commanding officer.

The military is in his blood. His grandfather and two of his uncles served in the military, and Allen’s father, Whitney Allen Sr., helped guide him to his current path.

“I definitely have to credit my dad,” he said. “He told me about his two brothers that served in World War II … He offered me a choice between college or the military. He wanted me to make something of my life, and he definitely inspired me … the others in my family who served did as well.”

Allen did both. He attended Dillard University, where he earned a degree in physics, and Webster University, where he earned a degree in management and leadership.

His military accolades are numerous. Allen’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal (3OLC), Army Commendation Medal (2OLC), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Medal (Bronze Star), Army Expeditionary Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Overseas Ribbon, NATO Medal (Bronze Star) and Airborne Badge. His services include tours in Germany, Kuwait, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

But before all of that, he was a student at West St. John, just like those he will be speaking to on Friday.

He remembers the time fondly.

“Not only was it a small school, but so many of the instructors were either related to me or went to school with my dad,” he said. “I felt very much at home.”

For instance, the late Rudolph Dinvaut was the principal at the school during Allen’s time there. He coached Whitney Allen Sr. in track and field and basketball.

“I couldn’t turn left or right without running into someone I knew well,” Allen said.

Allen looks to give back to the school whenever he can. He has donated $3,500 to the school as well as books to the school library.

He also has set up a scholarship in the names of Travell Gordon and Jared Becnel, awarded to one male and female student at the school each year at the annual WSJ athletic banquet. Gordon and Becnel were killed in a car accident two years ago in Edgard. They were friends of Allen’s from their time at the school.

As far as the secrets to the success that he’s found in life, Allen said it comes down to four things: Support from family and friends; the desire to learn and continue to do so throughout life; a willingness to accept and anticipate change; and to have faith in one’s self.

“If these kids take anything from my experience, it should be those four things right off the bat,” he said.