By Christie Vanover
Darnall Public Affairs
FORT HOOD, Texas – As small arms fire pinned down a Soldier in Taji, Iraq, Sgt. Russell Collier unhesitatingly laid down his weapon, grabbed his medical bag and rushed through enemy fire to the Soldier’s aid.
Collier’s actions on that Sunday in 2004, led to his own fatal wounds, and six years later Nov. 23, the combat medic’s valor was recognized when the West Fort Hood Clinic was renamed in his honor.
“He was one of those ordinary Soldiers placed in an extraordinary circumstance,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Ronald Chastain, Collier’s brigade commander at the time. “When placed in danger, in which his very life hung in the balance, he reacted and did what had to be done. He knew that duty and sacrifice were more than mere words.”
Collier had a history of going above the call of duty for his nation. As a member of the Arkansas National Guard, he volunteered to deploy with the 39th Brigade Combat Team as part of the 1st Cavalry Division when they received orders for Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
“His reasons for going to Iraq were to protect the American people, to preserve our way of life and to ensure a peaceful future for ourselves and our children,” Chastain told a crowd of nearly 200 at the official naming ceremony.
It is rare for an active duty installation to name a building in honor of a National Guard Soldier, but Col. (Dr.) Steven Braverman, commander of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, said the wars being fought now are fought in a manner different from wars past.
“Our National Guard and Reserve brethren fight together in our modular Army with our active component as one team,” he said.
That team was present at the ceremony. While deployed, Collier was attached to the 1st Battalion, 103rd Field Artillery Regiment, Rhode Island National Guard. Soldiers from his units both in Arkansas and Rhode Island, as well as members of the 1st Cavalry Division, III Corps and the Southern Regional Medical Command united Nov. 23 in his memory.
Collier’s widow, Veronica, said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“It was amazing that they would travel so far,” she said. “I was so impressed.”
Collier’s daughter, Mary, agreed: “It was so good to finally meet some of the guys who were with him. I was surprised with how many came.”
Seven general officers, rows of Soldiers and employees from the clinic rose in a standing ovation as Veronica , Mary and Collier’s sons, Wayne and Hunter, unveiled the monument that bears his image and the description of his heroic actions. Veronica wiped a tear from her eye as she gazed at the memorial that will forever rest at Fort Hood.
“I thought that was an amazing honor for Russell and all of us that they would do something so huge for all of us,” she said after the ceremony.
Veronica said her husband was dedicated to the medical field, as is evident by his actions on Oct. 3, 2004, for which he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
“He would do anything to help people and anybody that’s hurt and sick. He would go out of his way to help them. It was the perfect field for him,” she said.
His battery commander, Maj. Christian Neary, agreed and said the ceremony vindicated Collier’s service as a medic.
“Sgt. Collier was not only taking care of his Soldiers’ physical needs, but he was also keen to their mental issues that they might have been working through,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me that he did what he did that day.”
The Russell L. Collier Health Clinic, as it is now named, will continue to serve the Soldiers and family members of Fort Hood.
“As we walk through the doors of the renamed health clinic, I know Sgt. Collier’s memory will inspire future patients, families and staff members. It will remind us daily of the sacrifices made by heroes before us. It will give us pause to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy today,” said Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Joseph Caravalho, Jr., commander, Southern Regional Medical Command.
“Those who work under the roof of this beautiful building behind me should be proud to say they work at Collier Clinic. Proud to work at a clinic named after a hero of our generation,” he said.