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George Mac Collins

Arkansas National Guard / Bronze Star with Valor

Guardsman put himself in danger to facilitate evacuation of a heavily damaged convoy

On a hot November night in 2006, as his platoon patrolled a major supply route in central Iraq to clear roadside bombs, 1st Lt. George Collins realized something was very wrong.

“We had gone through a checkpoint that was supposed to be manned by the Iraqi Army,” Collins recalled. “But when we’d gone through it, it was unmanned, so we knew something was going on.”

A short distance past the checkpoint, the platoon put out a robot to search a crater for improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. At the rear of the patrol, two soldiers reported seeing small-arms fire behind them, where a supply convoy had slowed to pass through the checkpoint.

Insurgents had been lying in wait to ambush the convoy. The shooting intensified, and a rocket-propelled grenade hit a supply truck.

Collins, then 31, acted quickly. He positioned his line of armed vehicles — including his own gun truck — between the convoy and the insurgents.

“Bullets are bouncing around off the windshield in front of us, and the gunner would flip around when he had to drop ammo,” Collins said. “My driver would throw ammo up to him and then (the gunner) would spin back around.

“I’ve got both radios in my hand, barking out orders to my guys, trying to get … the convoy out of the way and seeing the window splintering in front of us.”

Collins’ platoon, its ammunition nearly depleted, held off the enemy until two Army tanks arrived and finished off the insurgents. The damaged convoy truck was moved out of the battle zone.

No Americans died. It is believed that 11 insurgents took part in the ambush and that all were killed, though there was never an official count.

The reality of what Collins and his men had been through didn’t hit them until later.

“At that moment, adrenaline had taken over, so it didn’t really bother me,” he said. “But 30 minutes later, it was pretty much a silent radio throughout the rest of the mission.

“Everybody was proud of what they had done, but at the same time you could see it in their eyes, because we had been in theater a month and never experienced anything like that.”

Collins received a Bronze Star with Valor, and 14 Army Commendation Medals were awarded to his unit — 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 875th Engineer Battalion.

One medal was awarded posthumously. Sgt. Erich Smallwood, Collins’ driver on the night of the ambush, was killed in an IED explosion on May 26, 2007.

Collins wasn’t there when Smallwood died, but he wears a bracelet engraved with Smallwood’s name (Collins was recovering that month from an IED explosion, from which he suffered a traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss.).

Three years later, Collins is reluctant to accept the role of hero: “It was our job,” he said.

But he is proud of what his battalion accomplished in Iraq.

“We found 1,200 IEDs. … That’s a whole lot of IEDs that got found and detonated and didn’t hurt a single person,” he said.

John Lyon writes for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, Ark.

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First Lt. George Collins' quick thinking helped his platoon escape a 2006 ambush in Iraq with no casualties. All 11 insurgents involved with the ambush are believed to have been killed. (Photo courtesy of George Collins)

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  • Collins-Smallwood
  • GeorgeCollins-Mays

George Mac Collins

Arkansas National Guard / Bronze Star with Valor

Born June 23, 1975, in Martin, Tenn., and grew up in Malvern, Ark.

Wife, Lindsay; son, Emerson Collins, 1; stepson Caleb Lloyd, 10.

Inducted July 2001 and served with Alpha Company, 875th Engineer Battalion, in Iraq. Now a captain, he commands the battalion’s Forward Support Company.

Both his grandfathers served in World War II, and his father, Guy Collins of Hot Springs, Ark., served in Vietnam. Brother-in-law Drew Kidder of Haskell, Ark., has served several Iraq tours with the Marines.

Positioned his truck between insurgents and a crippled convoy, engaging the enemy so the damaged vehicles could be moved to safety.

Moved to Hot Springs in 2004 and runs a golf course with his father.

“Most of the men in my family have been in. It’s just something I felt like I needed to do.”

Iraq / Baghdad To Balad

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