COLUMBIA — "I'm gonna join."
Those three words, uttered to his buddies on the spur of the moment while a "be all you can be" commercial rolled in the background, came to define Allan Sharrock's life.
PERSONAL: Age 29. Engaged to Dee Cooper.
OCCUPATION: Industrial technology teacher at Lange Middle School; Missouri Army National Guard captain; part-time MU graduate student studying education administration.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in agricultural education from MU.
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: allansharrock.com
BACKGROUND: Numerous military decorations, including the Bronze Star; many military training courses in engineering, leadership, combat and more; member of Veterans of Foreign Wars; international studies in the Czech Republic and Germany; trained in welding at the Perryville Vocational Tech Center.
TOP 4 ISSUES
- Public Safety: Would look into building a second police station; wouldn't cut the police budget; would expand Neighborhood Watch training.
- Economy: Would ask for a list of potential projects from Regional Economic Development Inc. and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and work until all have been put to a vote; would work to close the financial gap between the less-educated and the professional class by bringing in better jobs for high school graduates and dropouts; would be aggressive in combating the economic downturn.
- Youth Issues: Would push for a transportation committee to re-evaluate public transit and ensure that buses provide easy transportation to parent-teacher conferences; wouldn't sacrifice education budget first.
- Zoning and Development: Wouldn't tell developers what to build where; would push the Planning and Zoning Commission to be consistent; would make it easier for businesses to relocate to Columbia.
AUDIO: Allan Sharrock
His friends didn't think he'd go through with it, but on Feb. 4, 1997, Sharrock, then 17, enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard.
Sharrock recalls the date as effortlessly as his own birthday. That’s probably because, for him, it was almost as significant.
Enlisting "was the single greatest decision I've ever made," Sharrock said. "The Guard has made me who I am today, and I owe all that I have to the National Guard."
Made his campaign, career possible
Sharrock’s military experience put him on the path that would lead to his run for the Second Ward seat on the Columbia City Council. Without the National Guard, Sharrock said, he wouldn't have the skills or discipline that made his career possible.
"It's made me a better person," he said. "It's shaped my leadership and disciplining skills, and it's given me a lot of high moral and ethical values."
Sharrock said the Guard even made his MU bachelor's degree in agricultural education possible.
"Boys didn't go to college very often in my hometown," Sharrock said. "I wouldn't have gone to college had it not been for the military."
Sharrock speaks with the forceful and confident voice of an experienced soldier and with the accent of a man raised in Sedgewickville, a southeast Missouri town of fewer than 200.
Most folks who grew up there went to work on their parents' farm or joined a local welding company, Sharrock said, but he was "always kind of the adventurous type."
In Sedgewickville, Sharrock's parents operated a livestock sale barn. Sharrock remembered helping his dad with stock from an early age.
"Once I got big enough, where I could handle the fall a little bit better, I'd start breaking horses for him," Sharrock said.
He said he doesn't think he ever owned a tame horse because every time he’d break one, his dad would sell it and share the money with him.
Sharrock gained lifelong enthusiasm for hunting and fishing while growing up in southeast Missouri, but he has no remarkable stories.
“I've never caught a big fish, and I've never shot a big deer," said Sharrock, a top-rated marksman in the Guard. "I always have the worst of luck. I'm always in the wrong spot when the big one comes by."
Today, the 29-year-old middle school teacher is becoming more involved in city government. Since filing for office, he's attended every City Council meeting except one he missed for military commitments.
Packing on the muscle
Sharrock's transformation from rural farm boy to soldier and then to teacher began in basic training. When he joined the Guard, he stood 6 feet tall and, despite his mother's hearty cooking, weighed just 110 pounds. After basic and advanced individual training, he weighed 170.
"In the process of 16 weeks I gained 60 pounds of muscle," Sharrock said. "I couldn't eat enough; I just heaped on the food."
Sharrock enlisted as a welder. He picked up welding in trade school and enjoyed it. He later worked as an engineer, an artilleryman and an infantryman.
In 2005, Sharrock's phone rang. He said he never considered avoiding the call to Iraq. "I'm a soldier," he said. "I'm going to do my duty."
Sharrock led a platoon searching for roadside bombs on the main thoroughfare heading south from Baghdad, and later in the city itself. His commander at the time, Maj. Jeff Hyde, remembered smoking cigars and talking about home life with the fellow MU grad.
Hyde laughed about the time in Baghdad when Sharrock was given charge of a brand new vehicle that, just a few minutes into the mission, was hit hard by an improvised explosive device.
"I can't believe you just blew up our new vehicle," Hyde joked.
'Cool under fire'
Grim humor aside, Hyde said, "He was just cool under fire. He did exactly what he needed to do and got everybody home safe."
Hyde said he trusted Sharrock with assignments that required high levels of independence and initiative. He said Sharrock's ability to think quickly would help him make the transition from military life to city politics.
"I really think a lot of Allan and his ability to problem-solve," Hyde said. "In a position like that, you're going to be faced with a lot of situations where you're going to have to make quick decisions based on some very limited information."
Sharrock recalled the day a cleverly concealed bomb hit the lead truck in a Guard convoy transporting two VIPs. The truck rolled off the side of the road, and another bomb went off directly behind Sharrock's vehicle. Sharrock saw the lead truck's gunner and turret missing and feared the worst.
He grabbed a medic and ran to check the truck. Sharrock found his gunner alive, but the 50-caliber machine gun on the severed turret pointed at his wounded soldiers with the trigger depressed, Sharrock said. By some miracle, the bullets weren't firing. Sharrock grabbed the gun's chain belt and twisted the links so the "rounds wouldn't start cookin' off."
"We were all lucky that day," Sharrock said. He requested a fresh crew that afternoon and completed the mission, not going to bed until noon the next day.
Learning what you're capable of
"There's no greater responsibility than leading soldiers in a combat zone," Sharrock said. "You don't know what you're capable of until you push you and your body to extremes."
Sharrock's limits also were put to the test in 2008, when he was called up to lead about 100 soldiers and 70 to 80 airmen to reinforce levees during flooding along the Missouri River near St. Charles.
Sharrock said he got only a couple of hours of sleep in three days, living off adrenaline, energy drinks and the knowledge that peoples' homes and livelihoods were at stake. His toenails almost fell off because he spent so much time in the water and mud.
Eventually, nature overcame the best efforts of Sharrock, his troops, civilians and authorities.
"Even though the levee broke, we considered it a success," Sharrock said. "We bought the civilians three more days to prepare."
'A no-nonsense teacher'
Since November, Sharrock has commanded an infantry company for the Missouri Army National Guard. He said he also uses his military experience to help train his industrial arts students at Lange Middle School in basic skills such as using tools, measuring and working with construction materials.
"I'm a no-nonsense teacher," Sharrock said. "I do not tolerate horseplay in my classroom."
Still, Sharrock said commanding unruly middle-schoolers is different from directing soldiers.
"You can't direct as much. You've got to coax them in the right manner," he said.
Sharon Winberry, an art teacher at Lange, said the "down-home, straightforward" Sharrock plays by the rules and says what he means.
Lange science teacher Bob Bruns remembered that, even as a first-year teacher, Sharrock would help monitor the hallway during breaks. Bruns said while that fact might seem unimportant to non-teachers, it meant a great deal to those at Lange.
"It made an impression on me that he was out there from the get-go in the halls helping us out," Bruns said.