The Marines and Sailors that James “Jim” M. Collins II led into battle during Desert Storm 30 years ago still call him Skipper. Twenty years prior to that, the Marines he served with on the ground in Southeast Asia called him Sergeant.
Collins, a retired Marine colonel, was born in Moultrie, Georgia, and grew up in Martinsville, New Jersey, the oldest of four children. After attending college in Louisiana, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, finishing top of his class at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. After a short time playing baseball for the MCRD team, he deployed to Vietnam in 1969 assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. He successfully completed multiple reconnaissance missions deep into adversary territory as a team lead. On his final mission, he was hit with an enemy hand grenade, suffering extensive injuries to both legs. He was medically evacuated to Danang where he received the Purple Heart.
After recovery, he was released from his enlisted obligations. He returned to school but was recruited by the Marines to become a Naval Aviator. Ultimately, he flew the F-4 Phantom and the F/A-18 Hornet, picking up the call sign “Red Dog” along the way. He commanded Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212 (VMFA-212), leading the Lancers on a successful deployment during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. There he would earn the Air Medal (first through fourth strike/flight awards) for “heroic achievement in aerial flight”. He later commanded Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and served as Senior Marine for Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet at Naval Air Station North Island.
Collins’ career took him, wife Cherie, a retired U.S. Navy Reserve commander, and son Matt, a U.S. Navy Builder, Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist, around the world. They have been stationed in Hawaii, Alabama, Texas, Washington, DC, Germany, and finally San Diego, where Collins retired in 2002 after 35 years of service.
Red Dog’s personal decorations include the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Air Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Defense Superior Service Medal. His proudest achievement remains being called Skipper by his Marines.