On guard, at home and abroad
Like many high school seniors, Cliff Allen dreamed of leaving his hometown behind.
"I knew I'd have to leave to get a decent job," said Allen, who realized that his future would be found elsewhere.
A few short years after graduating from Red Wing High School in 2005, Allen found himself about as far from the city as possible - more than 6,000 miles away in South Korea.
And that was only the beginning of his travels.
Allen was training with the South Korean army near Seoul as part of his education at The Citadel, a military academy in Charleston, S.C.
An avid outdoorsman and varsity athlete with a penchant for boxing, Allen said military service seemed like a good fit for both his talents and career goals.
"The military is kind of a family business," Allen said.
He learned about The Citadel from his father, retired U.S. Army colonel and current Goodhue County Commissioner Ron Allen, who started his first deployment in Afghanistan in 2003 when Cliff was a sophomore at RWHS.
"My dad served with a lot of members of the military who had gone (to The Citadel) and it has a good reputation," Allen said. "For me to advance my military career, I thought it would be a good idea."
He graduated from The Citadel with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, as well as a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard.
Allen said his goal was to eventually work in federal law enforcement, so he applied to the Department of Homeland Security. In 2010, he was accepted into the U.S. Border Patrol and began a one-year training program in New Mexico.
"I saw videos of Border Patrol agents riding around on four wheelers and it really appealed to me," he joked.
But Allen didn't stay on the border for long, as he was called up for active duty by the Guard in the summer of 2012. His mission: work with the Afghan National Police to patrol the country's southern region.
"I wanted to deploy," Allen said. "It's kind of like being part of a football team and never being a part of a game."
He only wished the timing would have been better: Allen got the call to ship out just as he was getting married to his wife, Lena.
"I got to spend a week with her, and then I had to go," he said.
When he arrived, Allen said his law enforcement background was a good fit for the job, adding that his experience patrolling the mountainous regions along the Mexican border translated well to the terrain in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, back in Red Wing, Ron Allen said he was concerned for his son not only as a father, but as a former officer who knew what Afghanistan was like.
"I never believed my son would be there 10 years after I was," Ron Allen said. "I thought it was pretty much over and that we would be out of there in four or five years."
For eight months, Cliff Allen and his infantry company helped patrol a city of around 40,000 people.
Much of the danger came from "blue-on-green" incidents, in which Afghan police fired on U.S. military personnel, Allen said.
For his service and leadership, Allen received a Bronze Star last month. He has since returned to his home in Texas where he will continue his work with Border Patrol.
Reminiscing on his plans to leave Red Wing back in 2005, Allen said his world travels have made him realize just how much he misses his hometown.
"I can say that I have been to many cities overseas and in the southwest, and I have not found another city as nice as Red Wing," he said.