This week is part three of my profiles on local Woman Veterans, to commemorate National Women’s History Month. Of the four women I am profiling two were in the US Army and like last week’s Anne Reathiford, my subject this week was also in the US Air Force.
Janet Dale (Dickman) Collins was born in the northwest Ohio city of Lima and raised just fifteen miles away in Delphos. She starts her story, “I was an Army brat, who up until the age of 10 thought that the military was the best life in the world. My father was at Fort Carson, Colorado and then went Army Reserve stationed out of Fort Campbell. He used to travel to many places with the Army in convoys, following them in a camper. That was much of my life up to age 10. I really enjoyed life then, traveling to all these different places and learning about the country.”
When her father got out of Reserves, Janet was 9 and they moved to Delphos, Ohio. The following year she turned 10-years-old and her life took an abrupt change. At the young age of 10 Janet, at no fault of her own, found herself placed in a children’s home. She remembers feeling, “From age 10 to 17 life was no longer the perfect place I thought it was. I learned that there was a lot of evil in the world and that it was not a place for me. Look I had a great childhood up to the age of 10.
“After 10, it was no longer the great world I thought it was. It’s like my life changed to running from then on. There are too “Ways to Be Running” — Either you are running away from something or running to something. I have been running since the age of 10, both ways. I was running from my life, yet I was running to find a place for me. I just needed a place where I felt like I belonged. While living in a children’s home at age 17, I knew that I needed to get out of Ohio, or I would end up someone I didn’t want to be.”
The young years as an “Army brat” had shown Janet what it felt like to be part of a military family. Her memories were of a large military family and structured foundation that she yearned for as she grew older. She said, “I chose the Air Force, because I wanted that safe feeling I had when I was under 10-years-old. I knew that I would have the chance to start anew and I might actually find my purpose in life.”
Like the rest of us “zoomies” Janet started off her enlistment, October 21, 1985, at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) just outside San Antonio, Texas. She had enlisted to become an Administration Specialist and was sent to Keesler AFB in Mississippi, for formal training. When she had graduated in 1986, she was assigned to Eielson AFB Alaska.
“Once I got to Alaska, my 1st permanent station,” Janet said, “I found my purpose and I was great at it! I was the youngest, lowest ranking member on the Inspector General (IG) Team. I became a member of the IG team and I did a lot of Temporary Duty Assignments (TDY) to many military bases doing inspections. This was something I really loved, why because we had to be the elite of the elite if we were to inspect them, we couldn’t hold others to standard if we couldn’t hold the standard.
“My Commander, Lt. Colonel William H. Churchill, was the best thing that ever happened to me. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and showed me the one thing that I hadn’t known since I was 10-years-old. I was someone, and I had a purpose. I truly felt that there was nothing that I couldn’t do, and to be honest there wasn’t nothing that I couldn’t do.”
1986 was a big year for Janet as she became more involved in Air Force life. She shares, “I met my husband, who was also in the Air Force. We actually got married one week after our first date, which was April 17, 1986 and we got married April 24, 1986. All our friends and family gave us 6 months and we would be divorced. That was 33 years ago, and we are still together.”
In December of 1989, Janet got orders for “Operation Just Cause”, and Jack got out of the military. “We had three children by then,” Janet said, “the youngest was only 7-months-old. Because he couldn’t care for the three young on his own, he went to be with his parents in Newport.”
Being away from her family was difficult for Janet as she shares, “Having to be separated from my children was difficult especially during the holidays. My youngest daughter was only 7-months-old and I missed her first words, step, and Christmas. This was one of the major reasons I decided to get out of the military. I wanted to ensure that my kids have a stable life.”
Janet got out of the service on February 1, 1990. For her service she received an Air Force Training Ribbon, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award w/1 Device, Air Force Longevity Service Award. Air Force Overseas Short & Long Tour Ribbon, Distinguished Graduate NCO Prep, Distinguished Graduate Inspector General and a Cold War Award.
She said, “When I got out of the service, I was not told that I was eligible for any benefits. I was processed out and that was it. What I learned had given me purpose and pride that I carried back to Newport with me.”
She became Director of Environmental Services at Regency until she ventured out on her own. Her cleaning services J & J Janitorial had numerous large contracts including one with Newport Grammar School. Janet began having health issues and needed a slower pace, so she took a job at Dollywood.
In 1999, Janet started having a string of surgeries. She said, “I ended up having 19 surgeries over the next 10-years. When I eventually came to realize that I couldn’t keep working anymore, it was the hardest time of my life. The only thing that helped me make it through it was the birth of my first granddaughter, Dominique Collins born in 2011. She gave me hope again and the strength to start living again. She gave me purpose!
“In 2011, I finally received a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then I have stayed busy with my granddaughter and volunteering in the community. At Memorial Baptist Church, I have volunteered as a Children in Action Leader and Girl Scout Leader. I have since become Grammy to another granddaughter in 2019. They give me the will to keep going so I can help them learn the past to create a better future.
“Two years ago, I got involved with the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102. I have been able to become involved with the services they provide to Veterans. In January, I went to Murfreesboro to become a Veterans Service Officer. Now I can help Veterans and their families with getting benefits. I have also become the Chapter Adjutant. This gives me another purpose.”
Janet’s story is a personal account of her journey through life, but not an uncommon one. Everyone needs a purpose to help them deal with life and each will have their own story. I invite you to stop by the DAV Hall at 148 Pine Street on Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon, to have coffee and doughnuts. That will give you a purpose to get out and meet with others to exchange ideas and stories. Janet is usually there and can help with your benefit questions. Come help give her a purpose.
NEWS OF NOTE:
I am sure you will see notices of programs being cancelled because of health concerns. I am going to share the ones I have been made aware of. I ask all my readers to take precautions and stay healthy. This media frenzy will cause many issues for those already at risk. I am talking about the current 20+ suicides a day among Veterans. Make phone contact with your family, friends, and neighbors to let them know someone cares.
The 2nd Annual “National Vietnam War Veterans Day”, Monday March 30 has been postponed until later in the year. For more information you can contact Debbie Williams, Smokey Mountain Healthcare at 423-623-0233.
AMVETS Post 75 has cancelled their April 7 meeting. You can contact the Commander Richard Holt at (423) 608-2902 for more information.
American Legion Post 41 has cancelled their April 14 meeting. You can contact David Mills, Commander at (423) 237-6896 for more information.
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 cancelled their March 19 meeting but still has service officers available. You can contact Larry Hartsell, Commander at 423-623-5112 for more information.
The Kiwanis have cancelled their speaker program’s Mr. Gerry Izzo, pilot of a support helicopter in Mogadishu’s, Black Hawk Down.
You can contact Mr. Claude Gatlin at 423-621-0156 for more information.
Rob Watkins is a totally disabled, Air Force, Vietnam combat veteran. He has worked with Veterans for over 40 years. As a member of local organizations, he continues his path to help others. Please send information, dates for events, two weeks in advance, questions or suggestion; by mail to 565 Caney Creek Road Cosby, TN 37722 or c/o Newport Plain Talk, email; email@example.com, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918.