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Lt. Col. Jeffrey Collins, left, an assistant professor in the English and Fine Arts Department, attends a Provincial Reconstruction Team opening of a boys’ school in Konar Province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo)
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English department professor awarded Bronze Star

Posted 2/10/2012   Updated 2/10/2012 Email story   Print story


by Luis Rendon
Public Affairs

2/10/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Professor Elizabeth Samet of the U.S. Military Academy discusses in her book, "Soldier's Heart", the importance of literature, poetry and developing the "full human being."

Lt. Col. Jeffrey A. Collins, an assistant professor who teaches English and speech courses here, embodies Samet's words. From Dec. 17, 2010 to Dec. 7, 2011 Collins more than distinguished himself as the Commander of the 766th and 966th Air Expeditionary Squadrons of the 466th Air Expeditionary Group in Afghanistan. On Jan. 26, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his leadership and success while deployed.

A member of the Air Force for 20 years, Collins taught at the Academy back in the '90s. He returned after completing his PhD in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

He speaks in a soft voice, often referencing the books he and his students are studying in conversation, and jokes easily about the nerves he felt being selected, for the first time, to be a Commander overseas.

He tells the story of a general he met while deployed: "He used to talk about being called to command a combat unit is kind of like going to the Super Bowl," he said. "There's nothing better, but there's nothing that's scarier."

Days after the ceremony, Collins reflected on his feelings while receiving the award. "I felt proud and, I don't know if anyone ever feels worthy, or at least admits to feeling worthy of getting an award," he said with a smile. "So I felt happy that somebody else recognized that it was worth it to be over there. Not that I don't feel like I wasn't making a difference, of course, but it's kind of a public recognition."

Col. Kathleen Harrington, head of the department of English and Fine Arts, who praised Collins for his achievement, said his time in the English dept. t helped ready him for his deployment successes.

"We like to think our role in the English department is to help build a human consciousness so that our soldiers, our Airmen..." She pauses and searches for the appropriate phrase. "We know what they are going to do," she said, referring to the difficult situations soldiers face during combat.

In addition to overseeing more than 900 Airmen in 70 different locations who helped and cooperated with joint forces, Collins performed more than 330 outside-the-wire missions, traveled 6,000 kilometers of explosive-laden roads and survived eight insurgent rocket-propelled grenade surface-to-air attacks while visiting his Airmen.

The immediate and direct difference he was able to make with Airmen, however, is what Collins says he is most proud of his time deployed.

He described a situation where communication between unit forces would sometimes break down during special operations and he'd be able to step in and provide needed solutions.

"By talking to the people on the ground and looking at what the Air Force can provide, those solutions made a better future for Afghanistan because you're getting the right people to the fight," he said.

Being able to comfort and support injured Airmen, though at difficult at times, proved to be very rewarding as well.

"They'd get to Bargram Airfield, where I'd meet them getting off the helicopter," he said. "It's not really comfortable to go talk to somebody who has been wounded and telling them that you're glad they survived and all that, but it's kind of what they need. They need to see a friendly face."

After being away from his family for a year, Collins is happy to be home.

For Harrington, the effect of Collins' return is profound.

"We believe that our profession in writing and speaking directly affects the power of our cadets to be leaders," she said. "So when we have a faculty member who can then demonstrate and exemplify that and actually deploy and be a commander and earn a Bronze Star, that's wonderful."

2/19/2012 9:18:37 PM ET
Thank you so much Lt. Col. Collins We are so proud of you. How blessed we are to have brave people like you who are willing to sacrifice everything in an effort to make this world a safer more peaceful and more democratic place for all of its inhabitants. God Bless You
Frank and Roslyn Jaronczyk, Ronkonkoma New York
2/12/2012 10:36:22 AM ET
Having known Jeff all his life we are not surprised by this award. Proud Yes But he has always been a very good thinker and a caring person who gives his all to any task he undertakes. He continues to make us proud parents. Bill and Jenny Collins
Bill Collins, Lafayette IN
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