Col. Sean Collins provides invaluable service to Afghanistan
By Staff Sgt. Matthew Benedetti, Public Affairs Journalist, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published December 03, 2011
Barnes Air National Guard Base, 104 Fighter Wing - Westfield, Mass -- In war we see things that are not seen anywhere else but in a combat area," said Col. Collins when asked about his experiences in Afghanistan.
The commander of the 104th Fighter Wing Medical Group, and an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Collins was tasked with ensuring that care and research protocols were adhered to during his six month deployment. As a member of the Joint Combat Casualty Research Team (JC2RT) comprised of researchers at different levels, Collins traveled throughout the region to fulfill his mission of overseeing clinical research to find the most effective methods to treat wounded personnel. He was the lone Air Force member assigned to the Army hospital on Camp Dwyer, a Marine base located in the Garmsir District in Helmand Province. "The mission of the team was to foster development and ongoing aspects of clinical research," he said.
A veteran of two previous Iraq deployments, including a tour in which he earned an Air Achievement Medal, Collin's role at Camp Dwyer would be distinct but equally important.
"They are doing a lot of research on the use of tourniquets," he added. The quote is representative of the not uncommon wounds sustained by many service members engaged in the ongoing fight in Southwest Asia.
A Southwick resident, Collins has been a member of the 104th for several years. He is a nurse practitioner, holds a doctorate in clinical research and was selected for the assignment due to his expertise. His professionalism, firm demeanor and affable personality embody the spirit of the modern day Guardsman.
Situated in the "desert of death', temperatures at Camp Dwyer often reached 130 degrees."If you had a generator go down, you were cooking," he recalled. The front line level 3 trauma center received patients directly from the battlefield, and personnel often developed innovative procedures to ensure that acutely injured service members were expeditiously treated. One example is the 'walking blood bank' which allows soldiers to donate blood immediately as the situation required. "Unlike the United States, there is not the luxury of a stockpile of blood, personnel would give blood that would be screened and administered to patients often within minutes of being donated," said Collins. This data will be recorded and analyzed to better enhance the process.
His tent was adjacent to the helipad and he would hear the Chinooks coming in all day and night. MASH was his preferred show growing up, and he would identify with Hawkeye Pierce, his favorite character during these moments. "Hawkeye hated war and to see injury to the human body, but would do his duty and everything he could to save lives," he recalled. At night, after a 16 hour day, he would unwind while working on research by playing hits of the 1980's. "Everyone loved it, except one doctor who would joke, "how can you listen to that stuff?," he fondly remembered.
His proudest moment may have been being awarded an Army Achievement Medal by the base Command Sergeant Major. Col. Collins taught an ASVAB class to soldiers several times a week to help them improve their scores and advance their careers. Each soldier demonstrated marked improvement and showed their appreciation for all his varied efforts by nominating Collins for the award. "I was thrilled. It was so important to me because those soldiers put me in for it. I am going to wear it proudly," he said. "It was a true joint experience," he added.
Collins was proud of his service as part of the JC2RT and to wear the Air Force uniform. "Deployment is a sacrifice, but more for my family. I am always busy working, researching and taking care of patients, and I love it. I know they are worried about me, and I am not there at home. Whether it is a good day or bad day, it was rewarding deployment," said Collins. "I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything."