Holliston native to lead medical unit in Afghanistan

Kendall Hatch

A Holliston graduate is shipping off to Afghanistan next year to head up the pre-eminent Army medical unit in the country.

"We will be kind of the top-level medical command and control under Gen. Stanley McChrystal," said Col. John P. Collins, a 1978 graduate of Holliston High School who recently assumed command of the 62nd Medical Brigade. "It's pretty much the top of the food chain in terms of directing and overseeing medical operations."

The unit, based out of Fort Lewis, Wash., will be responsible for coordinating and setting up policy for other medical units in Afghanistan, Collins said, a job which has gotten a lot larger with President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to the country.

The 62nd Medical served as the commanding medical unit in Iraq for 15 months in 2007 and 2008.

Collins has been in the Army for 26 years. He spent the previous four months as chief of staff of the Western Region Medical Command, which oversees medical operations in 20 states and at nine military hospitals.

He also served as the chief of staff at Lanstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and has been stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He graduated magna cum laude from Providence College, where he was a distinguished military graduate of the ROTC program.

Collins said he was thrilled when he found out about his reassignment in mid-September.

"It's an honor," he said. "Whenever we have the opportunity to command, that's kind of the pinnacle of a career. It's kind of the best assignment we can get."

In addition to taking care of injured troops in Afghanistan, Collins said the 62nd Medical will also be offering humanitarian aid to local people and trying to bolster Afghanistan's medical system.

Throughout his 26 years of experience, Collins has not been stationed in a combat zone, mainly due to rank and assignments, he said.

"I don't think any soldier wants to go into a combat zone," he said. "But it's my duty. It's my time to deploy."

Collins' father, John Collins, said that while he is proud of his son's achievements, he has the same concerns of any parent whose son or daughter is deployed to a war zone.

"He's really quite committed to his profession. I'm very proud of him," said the elder Collins, who is an Army veteran of the Korean War. "I'm fully supportive of his goals, but I do have some reservations about his assignment.

"I feel good about it. It's really a culmination of his career. But I'm not keen on war," he said. "From a father's point of view - in terms of going to Afghanistan - I'm not awfully thrilled about that."

Collins said that he is simply going to try to fulfill his duties the best he can and stay out of harm's way.

"In April we are all going down there with a very positive attitude," he said. "We are just going to do our job, stay safe and get back to our families in a year."

Kendall Hatch can be reached at 508-626-4429 or khatch@cnc.com.