First Posted: 12/23/2008
When Jay Collins enlisted in the Army in September, his father, Roy, knew that this could be the last Christmas they would share as a family before he could possibly be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
In an effort to make this one special, Roy set about getting a banner made which he hung outside his home as a surprise for Jay. The banner, which welcomes Jay home, also serves to honor and salute the rest of the troops and veterans.
Jay decided to join the Army in September because of the economy and lack of jobs in the area. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson and is currently in advanced individual training at Fort Gordon until August 2009. His specialty is satellite communication, making sure everyone can communicate with everyone else.
Minus being away from my family, you cant be laid off and you cant be fired, he said, also noting that the education benefits and medical benefits were driving factors.
He decided on joining the Army, in part, because his dad also served in the Army and then worked for Veterans Affairs. He was in the JROTC in high school, though at the time he did not know it would lead to a career choice. Jay is a welder/fabricator by trade.
I had seen and reaped the benefits of where he had been in the military when I was younger, he said. I always took pride in the fact that my father was in the military. In the long term, it was the smartest move I made.
He also was quick to note that the Army has changed since his dad served. It is constantly changing the programs it offers. He also believes it offers more for families of soldiers, changing the focus from that of being solely on soldiers.
Ive seen the horror stories of people coming back from Vietnam, he said. Regardless of whos in office, the public stands behind the troops right now.
He believes that he has been able to make the transition because of the support of his family. He has been married to his wife, Nevada, for 13 years and has four children. With two-and-one-half months of basic training spent away from home, he believes that without the support structure he had in place, his experience would not have been as tolerable.
The daily letters mean a lot to any soldier, he said, noting that he received letters from his family, friends, community members and church members. Its a very rewarding way of life, and you have to have a very broad structure of support. Its an honor to be able to serve.
He believes his experiences so far have been good and while he, along with all of the other members of the military, does not want to be deployed to the Middle East, he will go where he is needed.
Nobody wants to go, but we will go and take care of business, he said. Just stay alert and stay alive.
Jay has seen an abrupt change in lifestyle since he joined the Army. Without his familys support and the support of the other men and women he is serving with, he thinks his experiences in basic training and AIT would have been torturous.
Its a lifestyle that offers structure, camaraderie and another type of family. Everyone there knows and feels your pain when you miss your loved ones. Its hard to relate that to the public. If I didnt have my God and my family in my life, it wouldve been very torturous. With a strong support base, you can get through it.
While Jay is in training, he is separated from his family, but they will be able to move to the base when he is done. He thinks that having his family there will make the experience better as well. Once he is done with his day with the Army, he will be able to go home to be with his family. Nevada also looks forward to moving closer to her husband.
We could move now, but the kids are in school and its important for them to be in a stable environment, she said. Its just hard. It really is. Im very proud of my husband, and I will support him in any way I can.
Once they move to the base, Jay thinks it will be easier for his children because they will be around other people their age who are experiencing the same things. They will also be able to access all of the activities provided on the base and in the surrounding areas. The Army has instituted new programs in which soldiers contribute funds to build things such as water parks and provide Thanksgiving dinner for those on base.
Augusta is big enough that theres always something going on, he said.
With all of the support he has received thus far, he was even more honored and humbled by his dads efforts with the banner.
Its very humbling to have someone who cares enough to put it out for all to see, he said. Its recognizing all the troops and helping the veterans.
Contact Morgan Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.