Tommy Allen: wanderer. That’s me. When I say “wanderer”, I don’t mean one who’s lost
trying to be found. I mean one who takes pleasure in taking new paths in life and
enjoys sharing those adventures with others. And while traveling to new destinations
on the map is part of that wandering, it’s not the only way I’ve found to explore.
Finding new passions and finding new approaches to old passions also motivate me.
I started with a lifelong wanderlust and passions for photography and writing. I
brought these with me when I joined the Army in 1991 as a Psychological Operations
Specialist. The MOS allowed me to capitalize on and expand my abilities in them.
Creating and disseminating influence products made good use of my writing and
understanding of imagery composition. And my wanderlust was satiated with, not just
multiple deployments to Somalia, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but with training
missions to countries so numerous that I cannot count them on all my fingers and
In the deployments, I found myself pulling the trigger next to Soldiers, Marines,
and Airmen. This dispelled my notion of inter-service rivalry, as I’ve seen them
all fight for the person next to them. And like too many service members, I’ve
gained experiences that I’d just as soon forget, and lost comrades that I want to
As I faced the darkness, I turned to my passions as a release. While in the
relatively locked-down situations of deployment, this meant writing. I kept a
personal journal that, up to the time that I write this, I’ve never shared. But the
act of writing was my original catharsis, as it allowed me to reflect on and del
with my feelings as I put them to paper.
On my final deployment, I did two things to I’d never done before to purge the
effects of losing a friend and respected colleague: I took pictures and then I
shared them. About the time the event happened, I discovered the Time Traveler
series by Detroit-based photographer Brian Day. In his black-and-white pictures of
him alone, never seeing his face, in many changing scenes, I found an immediacy and
loneliness that I found myself relating to. I used that as an inspiration to create
and share a photographic series I called Solo. The setting up and taking of these
pictures alone helped me a great deal. But the appreciation and support that I
received from friends, family, and even strangers was the key that brought me all
the way back to the light.
Since my retirement in 2013, my life has been spent in constant exploration both in
my mind and on the road. I’ve further refined and gained new abilities in my
photography and videography. I’ve put my writing to good use in the form of
personal notes, stories, and scripts for training films. I’ve learned to oil paint,
mostly landscapes. And I’ve continued to feed my wanderlust, both throughout our
varied and beautiful country and in adventurous overseas destinations. Most
recently, I’m using my GI Bill to learn to work with beautiful woods and to
eventually build furniture.
For those of you out there who still find yourselves facing the darkness, I beg of
you to do this: Try out everything you can think of. Find something you love to do,
and stick with it. Strive to become the best at it that you can possibly be. In the
beginning, you’ll likely not excel at your chosen task. But dig down deep and find
the strength and courage to persevere. By working hard and overcoming those
challenges, you’ll find rewards and satisfaction. Once you’ve conquered that
challenge, seek another. It may be expanding the talent you’ve already been working
on, or it may be something new. Just never stop seeking out the rewards that can
only be derived from challenging yourself.
Whoever you are out there, you have my best wishes and my thanks for serving our