How would you like to be responsible for the airplane that carries the President of the United States? Gunnery Sergeant John Collins was one of the 800 men and women of the US Marine Corps helicopter squadron stationed at Quantico, Virginia charged with this task. Collins, a helicopter mechanic, was assigned to the squadron from 1998-2002 and assisted in the maintenance of the 19 helicopters that are used to transport the President, Vice President, members of the President’s cabinet, and foreign dignitaries. When the President is in the helicopter, its call sign becomes Marine One, just as when he is in his 747 airplane, its call sign becomes Air Force One. (Until 1976 the Marine Corps shared the responsibility of helicopter transportation with the US Army. Then there was an “Army One”…but alas, all good things have to come to an end!!) Marine One is always transported where ever the President travels within the US or overseas and when Air Force One lands, Marine One is always there ready for the President. And Yes, GySgt Collins did get to meet with the President and have his picture taken in the Oval office!

From this assignment, it was on to Recruiting duty here in Texas. He, his wife Abby, and two kids moved to Forney and he worked out of the Mesquite recruiting station. And then in 2005, in Lake Point Hospital, twins were born. Now it is a family of six and, coincidently, six weeks later they all pack up and move once again as Collins is reassigned to Hawaii. This time it is back in helicopters. The family is settled, Hawaii is beautiful, and after eight months, it is time to move again, except this time it is on to Iraq. His family moves back to Texas (more on this later) and Gunnery Sergeant Collins heads for Iraq where he is assigned to a helicopter squadron flying the CH-53.

Many of us remember the CH-53 from its Vietnam days where it got the nick name “The Jolly Green Giant” due to its color and role in rescuing downed airmen. Still used for this purpose, it also has acquired additional tasks of acting as a heavy lift helicopter for the transportation of materials and supplies. It can carry 37 fully equipped combat troops and if you watch the evening news, you probably have seen this helicopter discharging troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Of local interest, this helicopter is the one the Marines are replacing with the controversial Bell, tilt rotor V-22 Osprey aircraft, made in Arlington. This replacement will start in about a year.

In addition to his helicopter mechanics duties, GySgt Collins also acts as one of the two door gunners on the CH-53. He says “I am proud of what I do and I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had in the Marine Corps for anything. Well, maybe more family time, but who doesn’t need that? I do my job so that my family and others can sleep in relative peace back in our Country.”

But what about John Collins’ family? Collins has been in the USMC for 13 years; 12 of these years he has been married. They have four kids, ages 11, 7, and twins age one. The first three years of their marriage they spent in California. One child was born there and Collins was deployed away from home for two six month periods of the three years. Next it was on to Quantico where the second child was born and Collins was gone two weeks out of every month for four straight years. Then it was on to Texas where the twins were born and six weeks later the whole family packed up and moved to Hawaii. After eight months, he is reassigned to Iraq, and because his wife knows no one in Hawaii, she and the four kids move back to Copper Canyon, TX where they are now living with Collins’ Grandparents until he returns in April of 2007.

So you figure, out of the 12 married years, how many times has John Collins been away from his family and, oh by the way, what hardships do you think his wife has had to endure raising four kids, most of the time by herself? Not only do we have local heroes serving for us in this terrible war on Terrorism, but we have many service families who are also heroes for the sacrifices and hardships they endure while their warrior husband or wife are away fighting all of our enemies.

What does GySgt Collins say: “I will return from combat in April and after seven months out here I’m sure my kids will enjoy hanging out with their Dad again. I am going back to Dallas to finish out my career on Recruiting Duty. It is the best decision for us now that we have four children and moving is such a hassle. Our family is our number one priority and I think it is for most Americans. The military has its ups and downs but all in all it has been a great experience for us. Hopefully my children will grow up more well rounded than most because of it.”

When you see one of our heroes AND their family, please tell them “Thanks for all they do.”

Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Lt Colonel who lives in Heath. If you have a friend or family member serving in the service, Active, Reserve, or National Guard, and would like to see them recognized in this column, please call Jerry at 214-394-4033 or E Mail at

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