Mississippi National Guard commander looks back on Iraq service
by Stephen McDill
Published: July 3,2013
Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2012 to serve as the adjutant general of Mississippi and commanding general of both the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard. Collins grew up on a Booneville soybean and cattle farm and after high school attended Northeast Mississippi Community College before enlisting in the Guard in 1977.
Collins earned his second lieutenant’s commission in 1980 and has since earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi, an MBA from Jackson State University and a masters in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
Collins served on active duty during Operation Desert Storm and was deployed from 2004-2006 during combat operations supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In the following interview, Collins talks about his time in Iraq and the current state of the Mississippi National Guard.
Q: Tell me about your service in Operation Iraqi Freedom as commander of the 155th Armored Combat Brigade.
A: We deployed to Iraq in January of 2005 and spent the entire year of 2005 there. All total we had a little over 4,500 (soldiers that were) assigned to us. We were actually assigned to the Marine Corps, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. We stayed under them until it was time for us to come home. We were one of a few National Guard brigades that had a full spectrum mission. We had our own forward operating bases. We did our own convoys. We did our own security. We also did all our own counterinsurgency operations where we actually went out and looked for the bad guys and took them into custody and turned them over to the folks at Abu Ghraib prison.
Q: Tell me about the soldiers you served with.
A: I saw daily, men and women doing some extraordinary things in Iraq; putting their lives on the line to protect the citizens of Iraq, to capture the insurgents and to make sure their fellow service member was okay. There were a lot of men and women from that brigade that did their country and their family proud. It was an experience that you never forget not only just because it was war but because you had an opportunity to (spend time) with some very brave and fine individuals. People who love their country and who were willing to give whatever they needed to give even if it included themselves to make sure that this country remained free.
Q: The level of insurgent activity was pretty high where you were stationed, correct?
A: Right, especially up in the northern Babel and eastern Al Anbar portion of our area of operation. 2005 was a bad year as far as insurgent activity. Not only were we trying to find insurgents, we were also trying to keep peace between (Sunni and Shiite Muslim) groups and they had a lot of different incidents where there’d be clashes between the two of them that we’d have to intervene in.
Q: Tell me about the courage and sacrifice of combat medic Specialist Robert Pugh from Meridian.
A: There was a road that we used quite a bit that had been blown up so many times by IEDs and the civil affairs guys went out to take a look at it. While they were out doing their survey that day an IED went off. The platoon sergeant, Sgt. Martin ,was injured and the medic, Spc. Pugh, was injured, both of them really bad. (Spc. Pugh) could not care for Sgt. Martin himself… he told the members of the platoon what they needed to do, everything in order to stabilize Sgt. Martin and we were able to get him back to the hospital. He survived. Unfortunately Specialist Pugh didn’t. He knew that he was hurt pretty bad and instead of telling everybody, “You gotta take care of me,” instead his last few breaths of life were spent trying to tell folks how to take care of Sgt. Martin. (Note: Specialist Robert S. Pugh, 25, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions.)
Q: What was the Guard and military like at the time of your enlistment and how has it changed since?
A: It’s much different now. The Guard was good it gave you some good military values but we weren’t quite as strict back then. The Guard has come a long way since 1977. We’re a much more professional organization. I think our soldiers and airmen that we have in Mississippi we can stack them up against soldiers and airmen anywhere around the world.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to say about veterans coming home and finding jobs or making transitions from military to civilian employment?
A: One of the things I set up when I came into this job was we set aside a section that deals strictly with helping our Guardsmen find jobs. We’ve worked very close with employers across the state and anytime they have openings we get that information from them and post it on our website as well as send out email information on potential job openings or any job fairs that they may be having around the state. We also have a way here where we can help our service members fill out their resumes, we can get them hooked up with folks that can teach them how to actually go to an interview, how they need to dress, how they need to conduct themselves.
Q: Where does the Guard stand as far as balancing current budget challenges with the technology demands of modern armed forces?
A: When it comes to equipment the Guard is in as good a shape as any state. In the Air National Guard, we’ve got the C-17s here in Jackson. We just received the first two of eight KC-135 Stratotankers over in Meridian. In the Army Guard we’ve got the latest M1 Abrams tank, that is the latest and greatest most digitized tank that the Army has to offer and Mississippi is only the second National Guard unit in the country to get that. Depending on how bad the military is cut, how much of a drawdown it is… we are in pretty good shape, we’re postured pretty good.
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