For more than 15 years, Winston-Salem resident Charles Allen has devoted his life to serving others, both as a firefighter and as a member of the Air National Guard.
The New London native was just a teenager when he lost his best friend in a fatal car accident. After that, he decided to dedicate his life to helping as many people as possible escape similarly tragic fates.
“From that day forward, I knew I wanted to help people,” said Allen, who has served the Winston-Salem Fire Department since 2002. “…Before I knew it, I was in the profession.”
Allen, who launched his career as a fireman in 1998, took his commitment to service one step further the following year, when he joined the Air National Guard, where he serves as personnel craftsman.
“You don’t know the impact that you make on somebody until you find them in their worst state,” said the father of three. “That’s really what keeps me going, knowing that I may have made a difference today, whether it’s riding in a fire truck or sitting behind a desk in the (Air National Guard’s) Human Resources office.”
Allen, an alumnus of Livingstone College, says none of the work he does would be possible without the caring and contentious support of a network of city employees, who take care of the home front while he is away serving his country. Allen turned the tables on four city employees by nominating them to receive Patriot Awards, which go to those who support the Armed Forces by helping members of the military coordinate the logistics of deployment and helping them adhere to their military duties.
Stephen Page, the area chairman for North Carolina Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, presented Battalion Chief Sandy Sheppard and City Human Resources employees Hilda Clark-Bell and Sherri Gaither with Patriot Awards last week during a brief ceremony in City Council Chambers. Fire Captain Alexander MacDonald also received an award but was not present for the ceremony.
“I’m very humbled to do so,” Allen, who was deployed in 2006 and 2009, said of nominating the foursome. “I’m very proud, because if it weren’t for them standing behind me, I couldn’t do my job. I’m humbled to have this support.”
A soldier’s schedule can change at a moment’s notice, Allen said, and all four of the award winners have become adept at rolling with the punches to help him meet his obligations without interruption. He thanked Sheppard and MacDonald for giving him the flexibility he needs to meet the demands of his second career, and Clark-Bell and Gaither for helping to ensure that his family receives the benefits and services they are entitled to in his absence.
“It’s a tremendous pressure to make sure that all of your ducks are in a row, especially when you’re going into a war zone,” he noted. “These two ladies, they went above and beyond to ensure that not only was I being taken care of, but my family was taken care of … I can’t say enough about what they do behind the scenes.”
Mayor Allen Joines lauded the four honorees for their exemplary service to city employees like Allen who do double duty serving their local communities and the nation.
“It’s pretty amazing that four individuals were recognized,” he declared. “I think it’s very prestigious, for them individually and for us as an employer. I’m just very proud.”
The city has been honored in the past for being military friendly and Joines said the individual awards reflect a widespread commitment among city employees to honor and support soldiers as much as possible.
“They’re willing to serve our country, so we as an employer think it’s incumbent upon us to support them,” the mayor remarked. “We’re pushing ourselves to make their lives a little bit easier when they’re deployed.”
Clark-Bell, a human resource analyst and mother of two, said she was surprised and honored to receive the distinction. The Human Resources Department is currently handling the affairs of roughly 10 city employees who are away fulfilling their military duties, estimates Clark-Bell. The Mocksville native said it is the men and women who willingly make such sacrifices who truly deserve the praise.
“I’m not as deserving as Mr. Allen,” she said. “It’s not something that I’ve done special. It’s something that to me is part of my job and part of my role… We’re being honored, but they’re the ones that should be honored, because they’re putting their lives on the line for us.”