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Face of Defense: Soldier Follows in Grandfather’s Footsteps

By Army Staff Sgt. Sierra A. Melendez, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade

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Many boys share hobbies and pastimes with the patriarchs of their family. However, very few can say they’ve passed on combat advising as a family tradition.

Retired Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins, left, Army Capt. Christopher J. Collins, a combat advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, center, and retired Army Capt. James R. Collins, right, pose for a photo at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., June 7, 2013, following Collins’ graduation. Collins and his grandfather, retired Capt. James R. Collins, both served as combat advisors. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sierra A. Melendez
Retired Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins, left, Army Capt. Christopher J. Collins, a combat advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, center, and retired Army Capt. James R. Collins, right, pose for a photo at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., June 7, 2013, following Collins’ graduation. Collins and his grandfather, retired Capt. James R. Collins, both served as combat advisors. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sierra A. Melendez
Retired Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins, left, Army Capt. Christopher J. Collins, a combat advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, center, and retired Army Capt. James R. Collins, right, pose for a photo at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., June 7, 2013, following Collins’ graduation. Collins and his grandfather, retired Capt. James R. Collins, both served as combat advisors. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sierra A. Melendez Advisor
Retired Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins, left, Army Capt. Christopher J. Collins, a combat advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, center, and retired Army Capt. James R. Collins, right, pose for a photo at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., June 7, 2013, following Collins’ graduation. Collins and his grandfather, retired Capt. James R. Collins, both served as combat advisors. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sierra A. Melendez

This is true for Army Capt. Christopher J. Collins, operations advisor for 2nd Battalion, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade and Apollo Beach, Florida, native.

Collins’ grandfather, retired Army Capt. James R. Collins, served in the Army as a member of the Vietnam Military Assistance Advisory Group in the 1950s.

At that time, the U.S. government decided it would be necessary to organize a specialized group of troops to coordinate procurement and dissemination of military supplies and equipment for South Vietnamese forces.

The MAAG consisted of a small number of selected soldiers who were also charged with the tasks of assisting in the training of South Vietnamese troops and advising on strategies.

“He said back then they had two captains, and three or four noncommissioned officers,” Collins said of his grandfather’s experiences in Vietnam. “That was their version of a combat advisor team. They had six months of language training, some cultural classes and then your typical pre-deployment training.”

Similar Missions

Collins is assigned to the 1st SFAB, that’s slated to deploy to Afghanistan soon to conduct a similar mission as his grandfather -- nearly 60 years later and in another part of the world.

Collins jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for the SFAB when it was presented to him. He credits the advice of not only his grandfather, but his father as well – retired Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins.

“They both said that I would be a good fit for it,” Collins said. “My grandpa said ‘There’s more similarities between people than differences.’ And that’s something I always saw to be true throughout my time overseas, in addition to being a language major.”

While this is Collin’s first deployment as a combat advisor, he said the life-like training he has received during the 1st SFAB’s rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center here, along with the personal anecdotes his grandfather has passed along to him, have prepared him for the operation.

“I’ve learned very quickly that there’s strength in numbers,” Collins said. “So working alongside these partners from other countries and combining thoughts and ideas can produce results with lasting impacts.”

Collins hopes his time in the SFAB and the training and guidance the unit brings will resonate with the Afghan partners he works alongside with -- similar to the influence he believes his grandfather left on the soldiers of Vietnam.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” Collins said. “The training I’ve received is some of the best I have ever gotten in the Army -- and I’ve been to Combat Dive School, Ranger School and the French Forces Command School.”
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