By Staff Sgt. Sierra A. MelendezJanuary 23, 2018
Fort Polk, La. - Baseball, cars, guns -- many young 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.
This is true for Capt. Christopher J. Collins, operations advisor for 2nd Battalion, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade and Apollo Beach, Florida native.
Military brats who later go on to join the Armed Services are a dime a dozen, but sharing the unique and distinct background of training, advising, assisting, accompanying and enabling partner forces -- decades apart and in separate major campaigns -- is a rarity.
Collins' grandfather, (ret.) Army Capt. James R. Collins, served in the United States Army as a member of the Vietnam Military Assistance Advisory Group in the 1950s, in the heat of the Vietnam War.
Under the Truman administration, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were key areas that America and its allies could not allow to be occupied by the communist Viet Cong.
The U.S. government decided it would be necessary to organize a specialized group of troops in order to coordinate seizing, procurement, and dissemination of supplies and equipment.
Enter the Vietnam MAAG, a small number of selected Soldiers charged with the essential and daunting task 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," said Collins. "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."
Collins is assigned to the 1st SFAB, on track to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring of 2018 to complete the same mission as his grandfather - nearly 60 years later and in completely different parts of the world.
This validates the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley's, reason for creating the SFABs -- advise and assist missions is an enduring effort that is here to stay.
Collins, who already had quite an extensive military background, 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 -- (ret.) Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins.
"They both said that I would be a good fit for it," said Collins. "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 lifelike training he has received during the 1st SFAB's rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Folk Polk, Louisiana, along with the personal anecdotes his grandfather has passed along to him, has prepared him and he's eager to play his part in the advise and assist operation.
"I've learned very quickly that there's strength in numbers," said Collins. "So working alongside these partners from other countries and combining thoughts, and ideas can produce results with lasting impacts."
The frontline has drastically changed from Collins' grandfather's time in the Army -- the rules of engagements have evolved and the enemy is not always uniformed. However, the need for specially trained and equipped combat advisors has persisted throughout the years.
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," said Collins. "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. Here, it's a unit with a real mission with a real focus."
Collin's grandfather deployed to Vietnam and retired from the Army as a captain, the same rank Collins will deploy to Afghanistan as. While many Soldiers during Vietnam were drafted -- Collins' grandfather volunteered to fight a thankless war.
There are many heartbreaking stories of Soldiers returning home from Vietnam with a greeting far different than the Soldiers today receive -- explicit words shouted at them, bodily fluids thrown in their faces and little to no mental health outlets available to them.
Despite serving for a nation that, during the time, seemingly turned their backs on veterans, Collins said his grandfather instilled a pride of country in him
"He's always been a hard worker," said Collins. "He taught me as a young kid how to fold the flag, raise it and bring it back down. He's been an amazing role model and I hope to make him proud."