Retired noncommissioned officer Kirk Alkire, U.S. Army Alaska deputy chief of Protocol, is an anomaly in a family where both parents and his brothers are educators.
The San Jose, Calif., native said he grew up in the outdoors surfing, skateboarding, skiing and hiking with frequent getaways to the family’s cabin in California’s Bear Valley.
He said he decided to join the Army due to the service’s contemporary and successful ad campaign.
“I was intrigued by the back-then slogan of ‘Be all you can be,’” Alkire recalled. “So I thought I would give it a shot for a couple of years, get my college fund and go from there. I stayed.”
Assigned to Fort Drum, N.Y., with the then freshly reactivated 10th Mountain Division in 1986 as a field artillery forward observer, Alkire said he decided to stick it out owing to the senior Soldiers he worked with.
“I was fortunate enough throughout my career to have worked for some really great leaders – officers and NCOs alike – who took care of me and made the Army really feel like home, so I continued to re-enlist every assignment,” Alkire explained. “It seemed to get better, more challenging, with more fun duty assignments. But the bottom line is I had a really great group of mentors who took care of me.”
Alkire said his first assignment to Alaska was in 1996 with the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade (Separate), followed by an assignment as a small group leader at the USARAK Noncommissioned Officer Academy, before returning to 1-501st PIR.
Alkire said he enjoyed helping to mold new NCOs in Warrior Leader Course as an SGL.
“It was rewarding, same as any of the jobs I held as a leader to work with young privates only to bump into them years later and see them as a sergeant or a sergeant first class,” Alkire elaborated. “Some of the junior Soldiers I worked with throughout my career are now first sergeants.
“It’s rewarding to see them stick with it, that and the idea that maybe I made a difference,” he said.
During a short assignment to the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., as an observer controller, Alkire said he was promoted to master sergeant, forcing the hand of fate to draw him back to Fort Richardson in 2005.
“I spent about 20 months at JRTC and was selected for promotion,” Alkire said. “Fort Polk said I had to leave and the only thing open at the time was Alaska, so I took it. That’s when the stand up of (4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division) happened, so I came right back to Alaska.”
He was assigned as A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment first sergeant, where he would be responsible for running a gun line of six howitzers during the brigade’s deployment to Iraq – a daunting task for a Soldier who spent his career hauling a radio during foot marches with the infantry.
“The difference between the gun line and FOs is distinct and it was definitely challenging,” Alkire acknowledged. “But it was fun to learn a new skill set, something I had never been exposed to.”
Following his retirement in September 2008, Alkire said he took a motorcycle tour of the country with three friends.
“I visited the Soldiers I had lost when I was in Iraq,” Alkire said. “I went to their hometowns, paid my respects to their families and their gravesites.
“It was tough but it was something I knew I had to do,” he explained. “I had to make sure everything was squared away as their first sergeant.”
After working for a brief period with a local corporation, Alkire said he was glad to accept a position with USARAK protocol.
“I liked the diversity of the job, getting out and being part of the ceremonies,” he said. “You get to see and be around Soldiers.
“This position involves everything from the president of the United States, all the way down to what is recognized in this command as senior O-6s or O-7s, who come to visit and everybody in between, applying to retired general officers, elected officials, appointed representatives, E-9s, the Sergeant Major of the Army,” he continued.
Most recently, Alkire said he worked as part of the Joint Operations Center staff to arrange President Barack Obama’s visit to Elmendorf Air Force Base where USARAK Commanding General Maj. Gen. William J. Troy served as the senior military official.
“There were multiple agencies – federal, state and local – that were involved in that visit and it was a two-week process before he came,” Alkire recalled. “The White House came, hit the ground a number of days before his arrival so we were working jointly with the White House staff (and) the Secret Service.
“It’s mind boggling the amount of work and coordination that had to happen for his short, two-hour visit,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Alkire said he enjoys the day-to-day unpredictability of working in Protocol.
“There’s some hair raising moments when you’re riding in a motorcade, you’re turning the corner and you’re expecting something to be happening at the location you’re arriving to with your VIP,” he said. “So there is a bit of finesse that’s required, a lot of flexibility and the ability to adjust fire.”
USARAK chief of Protocol Robert Silk said Alkire still embodies the NCO ethos during his daily duties.
“He still corrects Soldiers when their uniform isn’t right or they are doing something wrong,” Silk reflected. “That old first sergeant mentality comes out and zip, he hones right in on them.”
Alkire said it required his entire career to completely come to grips with the meaning of serving as an NCO.
“It took quite a few years to fully understand it, but the opening line of the NCO Creed of ‘No one is more professional than I,’ definitely was a statement I tried to live up to,” he said. “NCOs are considered the backbone of the Army and those are very powerful statements. With 200-plus years of NCOs ahead of us, those are some pretty big boots to fill. It’s not just about wearing the stripes.”
Alkire is married to his high school sweetheart, Angelina. The couple has a son, Matthew, who is studying film and media at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.