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Fargo veteran begins receiving disability for PTSD 25 years after surviving Turkish prison

Allen suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the tears, mistrust, anger, broken relationships, lost jobs and even the suicidal thoughts all lead back to Oct. 5, 1997 — the day he was thrown into a Turkish prison.

A bearded man with a skull tattoo on his shoulder sits on a couch and looks into the distance with his dog looking straight into the camera
Robert Allen, a U.S. Air Force veteran, describing his story about being thrown into a Turkish prison. His support dog, Frankie, watches closely nearby on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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FARGO — A thin veil of support holds back the tension roiling beneath Robert Allen’s 260-pound frame. The U.S. Air Force veteran admits there is little stopping him from attacking the next indigent outside his home on what he calls “meth alley.”

When police come knocking, Allen, who said he was a former military police officer, bristles for a fight, going through scenarios on how he and his support dog, Frankie, a German shepherd and American bulldog mix, would take them out.

A book about World War II titled “The War” sat in front of Allen on a coffee table while Frankie studied the intrusion by The Forum for any threats, like a camera.

Allen suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the tears, mistrust, anger, broken relationships, lost jobs and suicidal thoughts all lead back to Oct. 5, 1997 — the day he was thrown into a Turkish prison.

Turkish prisons are known for routine torture, inhumane treatment of prisoners and prolonged court proceedings, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom .

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Until Allen won a case with the Veterans Administration two months ago to begin receiving disability paychecks, he was a day away from becoming a “bum” for a second time in his life.

Allen received orders in 1997 to go to Turkey with his family, but at the last second, his wife bowed out.

"So I went over there by myself. Everything was new to me, first time away from my family and friends, so I was already nervous, scared,” he said.

Allen said he stayed out of trouble overseas while other airmen spent off time partying and drinking.

“And then, it happened,” he said.

A man sits on a rug in a decorated room with his dog snuggled up to him.
Robert Allen and his support dog, Frankie, in his living room in Fargo on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Six months into his deployment at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, while Allen slept, three members of the Gendarmerie General Command, or police, burst into his apartment a short distance outside the base. He lived on base when he arrived, but he moved into an apartment with roommates a short time later, which the military allowed at the time.

The gendarme put him in handcuffs, and he was taken to prison, according to Allen.

“I had absolutely no idea why I was there or how long I’d be there. No one read me my rights," he said, adding he wasn't allowed to make a phone call.

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While in his cell, which had no bed and was made from a hard, gravel-like substance, a girl Allen recognized was brought in. She was beaten repeatedly, he recalled.

After a day and a half without food, Allen was taken from his cell and brought to the main police station room and offered apples. There, the gendarme told Allen he was being charged with sexual assault against the girl who was beaten, he said.

“My belief is that they were trying to force her to go along with the story, which would have been rape," Allen said. "They just beat her the whole time."

The girl, a 17-year-old high school graduate, was looking for a ticket out of Turkey, according to Allen.

With no proof of a sexual assault and the girl not corroborating the story, Allen was released. Allen was not assaulted, but mentally, the trauma from the ordeal is still with him, he said.

Superior officers brought him back to base, where he spent the next eight months living in fear of being sent back to a Turkish prison or secretly flown out of the country.

“It was a living hell,” Allen said, adding the charges were reduced to harboring a minor.

“It wasn’t me who was with her, it was a different airman. They got the guy, but I never found out what happened to him,” Allen said.

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After 18 months overseas, he returned home to Minot Air Force Base, but the damage was already done.

The trauma didn’t reveal itself at first but came over time, in ways he didn’t recognize until after he was divorced. He became estranged from his children.

Allen started hating the government, the military and his bosses. He was plagued by questions and became suicidal, he said. “They played Russian roulette with my life."

He's had 15 relationships and more than 25 jobs since 2007, he said. In 2019, he went to the Veterans Administration's mental ward, he said.

After years of trying to get assistance, Allen was awarded 50% disability for his PTSD and other mental disorders like chronic sleep impairment, depression, memory loss and anxiety by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"This 50% doesn’t do anything for me; it’s only $958 a month," Allen said. “I’m not the only one in my shoes; there’s a lot of us, people in my spot. You almost need your hand held to go through the process and get your claim."

A photo, medal and patch rest atop a black beanie that reads "Defensor."
Robert Allen's beenie cap, picture and other awards and trinkets from his time in the U.S. Air Force.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Chris Deery, Cass County's veterans service officer, confirmed Allen was in the Air Force in 1997 but added some paperwork gets lost in the shuffle due to caseload and human error.

In 2020, there was a backlog of more than 204,000 applications for assistance at the national level, he said.

Deery, a veteran who served in Iraq, said he now tries to help veterans get the assistance they're due.

“The process starts here for anyone in the county,” Deery said, adding that his office then files paperwork at the national level. “If you don’t dot every i and cross every t, the Veterans Administration says you have to file another form.”

Allen will continue trying to get additional financial assistance from the VA and hopes to one day retreat to the countryside and live on a farm.

He is grateful for his girlfriend, noting, “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I’d be around," and described seeing his grandchildren for the first time three months ago, choking back tears.

“All of these little things, I didn’t see it. I cry every day now; I used to never cry," Allen said. "I was that tough guy until three years ago. I think it’s good to cry a little bit."

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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