Call of duty

Katherine Collins is giving up time with her family and her studies to serve her country in Cuba
Monday, August 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:32 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

As of Sunday, Columbia resident Katherine Collins was a wife and stepmother to two teenagers trying to earn her undergraduate degree in English at MU. At the end of August, Spc. Collins will still be a wife and stepmother, but she’ll also be deployed to Cuba with the National Guard, where American forces are working with al-Qaeda detainees.

Collins said it is unlikely she will have contact with the detainees, but because of security issues, her National Guard unit will be confined to the base during its deployment.

Collins’ husband, Craig, said he worries about his wife’s safety because of the possibility of Cuba as a terrorist target.

“Her unit is going to a place with a lot of al-Qaeda detainees, and in the bigger picture, Cuba may become a target for future terrorist attacks,” he said.

Missouri’s 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment will produce a weekly newspaper for soldiers stationed in Cuba. The newspaper will contain military profiles and stateside news, and the unit will also work as a liaison between the military and civilian press.

Tribunals are scheduled to be held for the detainees, but Collins said she doesn’t know if they’ll start while she’s in Cuba. She said a decision has not been made about closing the tribunals to the media, but that her unit would likely work with other military press on the coverage.

Collins said a typical day in Cuba will start with a story idea, and she’ll spend the day conducting interviews and taking photographs.

“I expect to write about three stories a week — I tend to write more because I’m one of the better-trained journalists.”

Before traveling to Cuba, the MPAD will receive about two weeks of training in Fort Carson, Colo. Collins said the training prepares them for the “unique experiences they might encounter.”

“Before I was deployed to Bosnia, we had land mine training in Georgia,” she said. “What we can expect in Fort Carson is how to deal with anything that might relate to the al-Qaeda detainees, including how to deal with terrorists.”

Because the unit is confined to the base, Collins said they will not carry weapons with them at all times, but will have them available. She and her unit are trained to use M-16s, and officers will use pistols.

When Collins joined the National Guard in 1999, she started out as a combat medic. In July of 1999, she responded to a memo asking for people to volunteer to re-classify. She accepted the transfer and attended the Defense Information School, where she enrolled in an eight-hour-a-day, 13-week intensive journalism course.

While at the school, she met Craig, who is now employed full-time with the National Guard as a marketing noncommissioned officer.

“Craig will probably not ever be deployed because he works full-time for the recruiting department,” Collins said. “He would only be drafted if there was a major situation, and they needed all available Guard personnel.”

Collins said one of the hardest things about being deployed is the time spent away from her family, including stepdaughter Alexandra, 15, and stepson James, 14.

“Every new mission presents great opportunities to meet people and use our skills, but I always wonder when the excitement will wear off and the homesickness will start.”

Along with being away from her family, Collins will also have to put her education on hold. She is one year away from graduation.

Craig said he’s proud his wife has been able to adjust to the obstacles of the year-long deployment.

“I think she’s taken it all in stride, knowing she’s going to be away from her family and have to delay her graduation from MU for a year,” he said.

Collins will spend her year in Cuba in permanent housing, and said she’ll bring photos of her family, as well as three anthologies of American literature. Collins is hoping to teach herself while away from her classes.

“The deployments provide a great opportunity to get some writing done after hours. I wrote a lot of poetry in Bosnia — you have to find creative ways to keep busy.”

Since joining the National Guard, Collins has been deployed to Bosnia and Panama. 2nd Lt. Jamie Melchert, public affairs officer for the Missouri National Guard, said the MPAD unit is unique when compared with other units.

“There are some Guard units that haven’t been deployed outside the U.S., but MPAD is a very well-traveled unit,” he said. “They’ve been deployed to several countries, and have received annual training in Hawaii and Alaska. If you’re in the MPAD, you get to see a lot of the world.”

Collins said she joined the Guard for more than one reason.

“I’m from a family that has many people in the military, and I know there’s such a great need for people to serve,” she said. “The benefits such as job training and the assistance with your education are also good incentives.”

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