See the list of past West Virginians of the Year here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He's a Cabin Creek coal miner's son who applied the discipline and determination developed as a youthful Golden Gloves boxing champ to fight his way to the top of the state's military hierarchy.
Once there, Maj. Gen. Allen E. Tackett combined leadership skills, energy and charisma to whip the West Virginia National Guard into fighting shape, elevating it from 24th in the nation in terms of combat readiness to the No. 1 spot within 18 months.
Along the way, he formed a partnership with U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, which led to the channeling of nearly $800 million worth of National Guard construction projects into a state that once lagged far behind its neighbors.
Through floods, fires, blizzards and drought on the home front and wars fought abroad in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, he has made it a point to make sure his soldiers and airmen are equipped, prepared and willing to meet the challenges facing them.
In the process, Tackett, who is retiring this month as the state's adjutant general, helped make the West Virginia National Guard a source of statewide pride and national importance.
For these and other reasons, the Sunday Gazette-Mail recognizes U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Allen E. Tackett as its West Virginian of the Year for 2010.
Fighting his way to the top
Tackett grew up in Kayford and Miami, on Cabin Creek, where his father was a coal miner and a local Democratic Party operative. After graduating from East Bank High, he spent one semester in college before launching his career with the West Virginia Army National Guard by enlisting as a private in the 16th Special Forces Group.
While taking part in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., Tackett decided to try his hand at boxing, which he had avoided back home in West Virginia for fear of losing and being subject to constant razzing by friends and neighbors, he said in a 2001 Charleston Gazette interview. Under the cloak of anonymity that came with being one of hundreds of recruits, hundreds of miles from home, Tackett scored three knockouts in his first three bouts.
Back home in West Virginia after basic training ended, Tackett won his first Golden Gloves match, but lost his second, prompting him to take up an intensive training program that involved his dad, his brother and 10-mile runs along Cabin Creek Road. He went on to win five state championships, and eventually became the state's boxing commissioner.
Since then, "everything I've been involved in has to do with the days I boxed and wanting to be a winner," he said in the interview.
After spending the first four years of his National Guard career as an enlisted man and noncommissioned officer, Tackett returned to Fort Benning to attend Infantry Officer Candidate School. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1967. It was then that he set his sights on becoming the state's adjutant general.
Within eight years, he became company commander of his Special Forces unit, and 10 years after that, he was named battalion commander.
Along the way, he earned a bachelor's degree in management from the University of Charleston, and worked his way up to a management position with Hobet Mining. At the same time, he was climbing his way to the top of the chain of command at the West Virginia National Guard headquarters in Charleston, rising from state command maintenance officer to head of logistics to chief of staff.
In 1995, after serving a nine-month stint as assistant adjutant general, Tackett's long-term goal was realized when then-Gov. Gaston Caperton named him adjutant general.
Tackett gave up his mine superintendent's job, taking a major cut in pay to become adjutant general.
"He got a lot of good ideas about what he'd do differently as he was coming up the ranks, then put those ideas to work when he became the adjutant general," said Brig. Gen. V. Wayne Lloyd, the retired commander of the West Virginia Air National Guard. "But he's also the kind of guy who lets you do your job, and respects the idea that you know what you're doing."
Instead of spending time and energy micromanaging his subordinates, Lloyd said, Tackett has focused on "taking care of his people, and giving them the facilities and equipment they need to do the best job they can."
Lloyd said that, for years, National Guard units in West Virginia "lagged behind our neighboring states in terms of facilities. Now, we can look on what we have with pride." Tackett, he said, "is the best boss I've ever worked for and the best adjutant general we've ever had."
"He is comfortable dealing with people at the highest levels of Congress or the Pentagon, but the people who are probably most important to him are the most inexperienced soldiers and airmen in the Guard," said Bill Raney, a retired colonel in the West Virginia Army National Guard. "He's a soldier's general."
'We expect to be the best'
On the day Tackett announced his retirement, he said the accomplishment that gave him the most satisfaction was initiation of the Guard's Tuition Assistance Program, which allows soldiers and airmen to cover college expenses in return for six-year enlistment agreements.
"By being in the Guard and going to college, they will get the leadership training that will let them be successful for the rest of their lives," Tackett said.
"He's brought generational change to West Virginia through the National Guard," said Brig. Gen. James Hoyer, who will take over as adjutant general following Tackett's retirement.
Thanks to Tackett's higher-education initiatives, 43 percent of all West Virginia Air and Army National Guard members either have college degrees or are going to college, compared with a 15.8 percent college attendance rate for the state as a whole. An additional 200 National Guard members are taking part in a "Helmets to Hard Hats" technical-skills program to enhance civilian prospects.