A Tribute to Charles A. Allen

Jeh Johnson
Friday, May 22, 2020, 8:00 AM

Put simply: Chuck is one of the finest public servants I know. He embodies the best in federal civilian service.

The Department of Defense. (Official Air Force photo by Sr. Airman Perry Aston)

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Today marks 20 years since Chuck Allen became the Department of Defense’s deputy general counsel for international affairs. To the benefit of us all, he remains in office today, with the vast responsibility of overseeing the legal aspects of the U.S. military’s operations abroad.

Put simply: Chuck is one of the finest public servants I know. He embodies the best in federal civilian service.

I had the privilege of working with Chuck when I was general counsel of the Air Force 20 years ago, and again for four years when I was general counsel of the Department of Defense in 2009-2012. Chuck was in his current job on 9/11 and since then has been at the legal epicenter of the U.S. military’s armed conflicts against al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban; the Iraq War; the conflicts in Libya and Syria; the maritime disputes with China and Iran; and many other conflicts, treaties and defense issues too numerous to list. I can think of no other American lawyer who has been involved directly in so many high-stakes national security issues over the past 20 years.

Along the way, Chuck has remained an earnest, low-key public official who consistently works long hours, mentors young national security lawyers and grinds out an extraordinary volume of work from his cluttered D-ring office in the Pentagon. A Presidential Rank Award recipient, Chuck has served four administrations and eight secretaries of defense. In the 20 years I have known Chuck, I have never heard him utter a political preference or statement. To this day, I do not know Chuck’s political preference, or if he even has one. Rather, as a senior bureaucrat, Chuck understands his role to support and advise the administration of the president in power, whomever that may be. To the extent Chuck has ever shared anything with me about himself personally, it is about his family, his prior service in the active-duty Navy, his Christian faith and the volunteer work he performs for his church on weekends. Despite the intense pressures and load of Chuck’s job, and in keeping with his character, I have never heard him utter an angry, bitter or cynical word about anyone or anything; nor have I ever heard anyone utter a critical word about Chuck Allen. Among all who know him, there is unanimity in our respect and admiration for this stellar public servant.

If ever there was a life or death issue that landed on my desk, I would not (and did not) make a decision without Chuck Allen by my side.

In an age when many deride the federal bureaucracy, and a supposed “deep state” within it, I remain encouraged and inspired by the examples of people like Chuck Allen, and his longtime Defense Department colleagues Paul Koffsky (deputy general counsel for personnel and health policy), Eliana Davidson (general counsel for intelligence) and Scott Castle (deputy general counsel for fiscal matters), who work long and hard to guide the ship of state day-to-day. Like the members of the active-duty U.S. military they work alongside, these are true patriots.

Jeh Johnson is a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP. He was Secretary of Homeland Security (2013-2017); General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2009-2012); General Counsel, Department of the Air Force (1998-2001).

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