PAVE LOW Pilot #249
Lt. Col. Wendell Lee Collins, 42, of Hickory died Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009 in St. Charles Parish, La.
Lt. Col. Collins was born January 1967 in Rome, Ga. He graduated from Marshall High School, Marshall, Texas in 1985, then attended East Texas State University, Commerce Texas.
He graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science degree in history while completing an AFROTC four-year program. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force the same day.
Afterwards, Lt. Col. Collins attended undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, where he completed training in T-37 and T-38 aircraft.
Lt. Col. Collins' first duty assignment was as a first assignment instructor pilot with the 87th FTS flying the T-38A Talon. While there, Lt. Col. Collins held various flight and squadron duty positions while accumulating over 900 hours instructing in the T-38.
In 1994, Lt. Col. Collins was selected to attend MH-53J Pave Low III training at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
He first transitioned from fixed to rotary wing while attending the rotary wing qualification course at Fort Rucker, Ala. in the UH-1H before starting training at Kirtland.
In 1995 Lt. Col. Collins completed the longest RTU schoolhouse in the Air Force as Pave Low pilot number 249 and was assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
While assigned to the Green Hornets, Lt. Col. Collins progressed from co-pilot to aircraft commander and held several positions in the squadron as current operations and chief of training. Lt. Col. Collins deployed in support of Operations Deny Flight and Joint Endeavour as well as other contingency and exercise operations.
From 1997-1999 Lt. Col. Collins was assigned to 31st SOS at Osan AB Republic of Korea. While assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command's most forward deployed helicopter squadron, Lt. Col. Collins served in a variety of squadron positions including operations planner, flight commander, and interim director of operations.
He also qualified as both an instructor and evaluator pilot in the MH-53J. He deployed to multiple locations both inside of Korea and throughout the eastern Pacific and was recognized for his work in classified and humanitarian missions.
In 1999 Lt. Col. Collins was reassigned to 58th Training Support Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. to assume duties as MH-53J/M program manager and continue instruction for the Pave Low schoolhouse.
While at Kirtland, Lt. Col. Collins developed the first CV-22 syllabus of instruction and made multiple trips to the Bell-Boeing Osprey plant in Arlington, Texas as a simulator and cockpit design representative.
He continued to train students in the Pave Low and was next assigned to the 551st SOS as squadron chief of safety and evaluator pilot.
Lt. Col. Collins was assigned to Special Operations Command Europe as a special operations Liaison Officer, Ramstein Air Base, Germany in 2001.
Lt. Col. Collins was lead rotary wing plans officer and then deputy director SOLE. While there he deployed on numerous short notice and contingency operations including embassy evacuations in Africa, an 2004 Olympic security mission and operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
From 2004-2007, Lt. Col. Collins served as assistant director of operations, 23rd FTS, Fort Rucker, Ala.
As the Air Force's only undergraduate helicopter program, the 23rd FTS is responsible for initial training of all U.S. Air Force helicopter pilots.
In 2007 Lt. Col. Collins was selected as Commander, AFROTC DET 320, Tulane University, New Orleans, La.
Lt. Col. Collins was a combat pilot and had more than 3,200 hours of flight time in T-38, UH-1H, MH-53J/M, CV-22, and TH-53A as well as multiple civilian aircraft.
He received the joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (3 OLC), Joint Service Commendation Medal and the AF Commendation Medal (1OLC).
He was preceded in death by his paternal grandparents, Clyde C. and Evelyn Fisher Collins, and his maternal grandparents, Col. Bertil V. Jones and Amelia Schmidt Jones.
Survivors include his wife, Jacqueline Cooke Collins of the home; a son, Samuel Lee Collins of the home; a daughter, Marguerite Rebecca "Maggie" Collins of the home; his parents, Ralph Lee and Janice Lee Jones Collins of Brevard; a sister, Linda Collins Carlton of Conover and nephews, Collin Wayne and Michael "Trey" Carlton of Conover; father and mother-in-law, Jack and Ellen Cooke of Hickory and a sister-in-law, Becky Cooke of Hickory.