What’s in a name? Plenty when you’re a military pilot. Known for their courage and skills, aviators also share a distinct rite of passage: a nickname or “call sign” bestowed upon them by their squadron.
“Some call signs aren’t so great. I knew a guy called Speed Bump—he had a reputation for always getting in the way. There was also a guy named Crash. Not a call sign you’d want!” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Randolph D. Alles ’76, now the acting Under Secretary for Management in the Department of Homeland Security.
But just call him Tex.
“I’m happy to have a fairly benign call sign,” said the San Antonio native, whose moniker has followed him like a jet’s contrails throughout his career. And there’s another thing that stuck, too: the leadership skills he learned in Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets that sparked a 35-year career in the Marines, executive roles with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a stint as director of the U.S. Secret Service and his 2019 appointment as Deputy Under Secretary for Management in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Lessons gleaned from business studies at Texas A&M have come full-circle for Alles, whose DHS role is similar to that of a CEO. “When there’s a problem, they’re calling us,” he said. In his position, he oversees department-wide management and oversight for all support functions from information technology and budget to finances, procurement, human capital and asset management.
The accounting major has shared stories about his time at Texas A&M as a speaker in last year’s Full-Time MBA and MS Business Special Guest Speaker Series hosted by Mays Business School. “Texas A&M gave me a great start,” he said.
From Corps of Cadets to Marines
Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets provided the foundation for Alles’ military career and beyond.
“The Corps definitely made a big difference in my performance and my ability to tolerate difficult situations, no matter what position I served in,” said Alles, who was a member of outfits H-1 and H-2 and served on Fifth Battalion Staff, Fish Drill Team, Color Guard and Recon Company. “I enjoyed the camaraderie. My time at Texas A&M was a major influence in my life.”
His hometown of San Antonio, known for its military bases, had always been abuzz with patriotic energy, and he felt called to serve from a young age. Following his Aggieland education, he attended Marine camp, followed by flight school. “That was the plan all along. It’s what I wanted to do, even before attending Texas A&M,” he explained. “But it was a friend who was crazy about flying who encouraged me to become a pilot.”
Within 10 years of joining the military, Alles was tapped to be an instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School in California, known as Top Gun. In 1999, he earned a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies at the Naval War College.
In 2003, he was deployed to Iraq with the United States-led coalition that overthrew the government of leader Saddam Hussein. He recalls the first day of the invasion well. It was also his 49th birthday. He spent it in a bunker, outfitted in protective gear, in the event chemical weapons were used by Iraqi forces. No such weapons were used, and the Iraqis were quickly overwhelmed as coalition forces swept through the country.
“It was an honor serving my country,” Alles said. “As a pilot, I enjoyed my job and found it very gratifying.”
Alles rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the commanding general of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing in Iraq that returned there in 2008 to help quell armed insurgent opposition. His last assignment in the military was director for strategic planning and policy over U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Protecting Borders, the Secret Service and Beyond
“It was a great military career and, after retiring, I was honored to have other great opportunities,” said Alles, whose mix of military and logistic skills landed him at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where he eventually served as the agency’s chief operating officer, overseeing 60,000 employees, including the United States Border Patrol.
But his most challenging role, and perhaps the most rewarding, he said, was his stint as the 25th Director of the U.S. Secret Service from April 2017 to April 2019, an agency in need of a reset at the time.
“It was a challenging period for the Secret Service, because they’d recently had a number of negative incidents occur,” said Alles, recalling a 2017 incident where a California man climbed over the White House fence, going undetected on the grounds for 17 minutes. The episode occurred a month before Alles became director.
“There were a lot of issues to correct, and it was rewarding because we saw good results and positive changes over the two years I was there,” he said. “Confidence and morale picked up.”
Texas A&M breeds leader-makers, he said, thinking back to his days at school. Whether prepping students for military service or training future intelligence officers through the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Alles believes Aggies are ready to take on the world’s most complicated challenges.
“Understanding our vulnerabilities is important, and Aggies today are being trained to go out in the world to protect us,” he concluded. “That’s invaluable.”