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Air Force officer receives Honorable Order of Saint Barbara Award in ceremony at Fort Bragg

Lt. Col. Richard Collins is an Air Force senior pilot with more than 2,600 flight hours over his nearly 20-year career.

But on Friday, the Air Force officer found himself in a sea of Army dress blues when he received an honor typically not extended to those in his service.

Collins, commander of the 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron at Pope Field, received the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara Award in a ceremony on Fort Bragg.

The Order of Saint Barbara recognizes contributions to field artillery, with fewer than 10 being awarded on Fort Bragg each year.

Collins was nominated by an officer in the 18th Fires Brigade.

Lt. Col. Joseph O'Callaghan Jr., commander of 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, made the recommendation.

He said it was fitting to honor Collins, who has helped foster a joint fires environment between soldiers and airmen on Fort Bragg.

Collins, who previously served as deputy 18th Airborne Corps air liaison officer for the 18th Air Support Operations Group and as chief of bomber operations for Joint Special Operations Command, provides direct support to Fort Bragg artillery and has helped merge the ground-to-ground and air-to-ground fires communities, O'Callaghan said.

Col. Stephen G. Smith, the commander of the 18th Fires Brigade, presented Collins with the award.

Smith received the award in 1999 and said it was one of the few Army-related pieces hanging in his home.

"We don't take it lightly," he said of giving the medal to an Air Force officer. "It's a big deal. It's a really big deal."

Smith said that following more than a decade at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the services are working more closely together, thanks in part to people like Collins.

"That joint bond is just inseparable now," Smith said.

Collins, whose father was an artilleryman in the 1950s, agreed.

"I understand it. I get it. I like to preach it," he said. "Doing your own job is one thing, but we fight as a joint force."

Collins said it was an honor to be recognized by the Army fires community.

He said Army battalions often involve his squadron in training on Fort Bragg and vice-versa, from field exercises to simulations, and said he believed that to be the new normal for the two communities.

"Staying in your own lane, in your own service, is not enough," Collins said.

The Order of Saint Barbara is named after the legend of Saint Barbara.

According to a description of the medal, Saint Barbara converted to Christianity in 300 A.D. When her wealthy father found out, he had her tried and later carried out a sentence of torture and death by beheading. After Saint Barbara's death, her father was struck by lightning and killed.

Saint Barbara is now considered the patron saint of artillerymen.

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