Skip to main content

Gen. John Allen: A Marine of distinction

By Alan Duke, CNN
November 14, 2012 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
  • Gen. Allen's stellar Marine career makes it hard for those who know him to write him off
  • Allen has a habit of replying to every e-mail he gets, an official close to him says
  • Allen did not have an affair with Jill Kelley, the official says
  • Allen is a married father of two daughters

(CNN) -- A story told about Marine Gen. John Allen while commanding troops in Iraq describes his ability to inspire the loyalty.

A mortar shell landed near a mess hall where Allen was eating, sending a young soldier under the table for cover. Allen, who remained upright during the attack, bent over and said to him, "Son, you're not going to win the war from down there."

Allen may be tempted to find cover under a mess hall table this week as he has been entangled in the sex scandal that ended the career of Gen. David Petraeus, who he followed as commander of international troops in Afghanistan.

Petraeus pillow talk: 'A spy agency's worst nightmare'

An investigation into "flirtatious" e-mail exchanges between Allen and Jill Kelley, the woman whose complaint about anonymous, harassing e-mails uncovered Patraeus' affair with Paula Broadwell, has put Allen's promotion as NATO commander on hold.

The married father of two daughters did not have an affair with Kelley, who is also married, according to a senior official close to the general.

What we know so far

"Allen has never been alone with her," the official said. "He does everything with his wife."

Marks: 'Bizarre' communication for Allen
Obama 'surprised' by Petraeus scandal
Cummings: Scandal a 'critical moment'
Rep. Chaffetz: Petraeus should testify

Allen, who has a habit of replying to every e-mail he gets, never wrote about sex although he may have said "thanks sweetheart," in casual e-mail conversation, the official said.

Allen's stellar career in the U.S. Marines has made it hard for those who know him to write him off because of the controversy.

Allen became the first U.S. Marine to command the International Security Assistance Force - Afghanistan and United States Forces when he took over from Patraeus in July 2011.

Photos: Who's who in the Petraeus scandal

President Obama will keep him in his Afghanistan post for now.

"He has faith in General Allen, believes he is doing and has done an excellent job at ISAF," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

"His leadership has been instrumental in achieving the significant progress that ISAF, working alongside our Afghan partners, has made in bringing greater security to the Afghan people in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists," Defense Department spokesman George Little said.

Fran Townsend, who served as Homeland Security Adviser in the last Bush administration, called him "a competent, respected, admired leader of troops."

Allen's military career began when he graduated with honors from the Naval Academy in1976. He returned there in 1988 to teach in the political science department, earning the "military instructor of the year" award in 1990.

Timeline of the Petraeus affair

He became the first Marine to be appointed commandant of midshipmen, the second highest post at the Naval Academy, in 2002.

When Allen was promoted from colonel to brigadier general in 2003, he was made principal director of Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He held the position for nearly three years.

He served in Iraq as commanding general of the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade from 2006 to 2008. He championed the "Sunni Awakening" strategy that organized and paid former insurgents or sympathizers who turned against al Qaeda.

Opinion: 5 things we've learned from Petraeus scandal

Allen was posted in Tampa, Florida, as deputy commander the U.S. Central Command from July 2008 until June 2011, when he took over the Afghanistan command.

It was in Tampa that Allen met Jill Kelley, who was already a friend of Patraeus.

Allen holds three master degrees -- from Georgetown University, the Defense Intelligence College and the National War College.

The left chest of his Marine dress uniform is covered with military decorations, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit with three Gold Stars in lieu of four awards.

Bergen: Obama's choices for CIA boss

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Chris Lawrence contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
CIA boss resigns
November 15, 2012 -- Updated 0058 GMT (0858 HKT)
The convoluted scandal has become an endless source of speculation. There is much we don't know, but a few important facts have emerged.
November 15, 2012 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
The affair that led to the resignation of CIA Director had its roots in a multi-year friendship, a flattering book and a young writer.
November 13, 2012 -- Updated 1840 GMT (0240 HKT)
Learn about the key players in the unfolding Petraeus scandal through our photo gallery.
November 15, 2012 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Since the infidelity scandal that took down the CIA chief David Petraeus broke last Friday, a scattered timeline of bizarre events have captivated, if not confused, the public.
November 15, 2012 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
It seems like everybody loves a good scandal except the people involved in it. How must it feel to be Jill Kelley, hearing stories everywhere?
November 13, 2012 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
About four years ago, Paula Broadwell began her Ph.D. dissertation on Gen. David Petraeus' innovative leadership skills.
November 14, 2012 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
A story told about Marine Gen. John Allen while commanding troops in Iraq describes his ability to inspire the loyalty.
November 14, 2012 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Unlike many stories about powerful Washington figures having secret affairs, the downfall of spy chief David Petraeus goes beyond sex.
As a commissioned officer in the military reserves, Paula Broadwell's security clearance would be "secret" or "top secret," allowing her access to classified documents.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus' wife has built impressive reputation of her own.
November 11, 2012 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Historians will likely judge David Petraeus to be the most effective American military commander since Eisenhower.