A Marine since graduating from the Naval Academy 37 years ago, Allen led U.S. forces in Iraq's Anbar province during some of the war's most difficult days. For the past 16 months he has commanded allied forces in Afghanistan.
Like all our officers, he takes the orders that emerge from the messy, conflicted policymaking apparatus in Washington, and he does his best to bring about a favorable result against long odds.
He's soft-spoken, hard-driving, committed to his troops and to success, however Washington defines it.
Are they perfect human beings? Even before the latest stories, we could have been confident saying no.
Have they been able generals, devoted public servants, useful contributors to their country?
Those strike me as the important questions, and they're not hard to answer.
In the era of a small all-volunteer force, many Americans don't know anyone serving in Afghanistan. Most will never meet a general officer.
In Congress, in the media, on university faculties, there are few veterans.
We stand and cheer at ball games when wounded warriors are shown on the big screen, and our cheers are heartfelt.
But they don't bring us closer to understanding what it's like to fight a war, or come back from one, or spend every other year apart from spouse and family.
These days, we call anyone in a uniform a hero, and that's understandable.
But it's not quite correct.
What many of them are, Petraeus and Allen among them, are people who have done hard, honorable duty for their country.
When this is all over, I hope we get straight what rates an asterisk in their life stories and what really counts.
Hiatt is editorial page editor of The Washington Post.