Deborah Jean Christian Collins began her 39 years of service with the Arkansas National Guard on July 30, 1975. Collins’s family had a history of military service and her aunt, a servicewoman herself, encouraged her to enlist.
During basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Collins served as a squad leader. She graduated from advanced individual training and that same weekend reported to annual training. Her first convoy out would be memorable enough to inspire Collins to pursue the rank of sergeant major. She unknowingly drove off without the rest of her convoy after they stopped to rest. Upon reaching base alone, the battalion commander and sergeant major gave Collins a stern counseling. They sent her back to rejoin her group. After that experience, Collins decided she wanted to be in a position where she knew what was going on. This started her on the path to becoming a sergeant major.
In 1978, Collins was selected as one of two female instructors at the newly established noncommissioned officer academy at the Arkansas Military Academy, a position she held until 1990. While there, she helped develop a basic course curriculum for NCOs and became the first female tactical NCO.
In April 1992, Collins became the first female command sergeant major in the Arkansas National Guard. She prepared troops for deployment to Bosnia. Then, while serving with the 87th Troop Command between 1996 and 2003, she became the first female state command sergeant major. During this time, Collins also helped implement the Best Warrior Competition program.
Collins then helped develop and oversee the military funeral honors program in Arkansas until she retired in 2014. Over her nearly four-decade career, she earned a Legion of Merit and three Meritorious Service Medals.
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Writer: Aristeo Hernandez
Fact checker: Brittany Hawn