Always Ready for the Storm
Semper paratus. In many ways, Allen's success stems from the ethos of the Coast Guard, a quasi-military service with the motto semper paratusor "always ready"that is known for providing uncommon authority to its far-flung commanders in the field. Allen was steeped in Coast Guard culture as a young boy moving from city to city: His father, Clyde, had joined the service as an enlisted man at age 16. "Thad has this unique ability to make the ordinary seaman feel like a king," says DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, who says Allen is known as a "highly capable leader" who can "wow a mayor or a president with his intellect" without "losing his common touch."
During a recent visit to the Defense Department's Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., Allen stood in front of a wipe board and took questions from two dozen rank-and-file coasties, comfortably citing details on everything from their TriCare healthcare plan to their chances of promotion.
Allen, a history buff intrigued by the bureaucratic success of Alexander Hamilton-whom he calls "the most successful man to never be president"-is already reimagining the Coast Guard's scope. "I worry every day we're fighting the last battle," says Allen, who is particularly troubled by the thousands of small tugboats and fishing vessels that troll the coasts largely unregulated. He has floated the idea of creating restricted maritime areas, similar to the aviation world's no-fly zones, that would keep small boats potentially laden with explosives away from tempting coastal targets like the 350 chemical plants lining U.S. waterways.
Another ambition: crafting a force of DHS personnel, including the likes of the federal air marshals, customs officers, and the Coast Guard's oil spill response crews, that can be mixed and matched into teams and quickly flown to disasters in Coast Guard C-130 airplanes. "Katrina showed me the potential power [DHS] has," Allen says, "... if only we're unified." Leave it to a true leader to see potential, even in tragedy.