Staff Sgt. Kevin Collins at home.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Collins at home. (John Vandiver / S&S)

European edition, Monday, July 30, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The kids call him “DARE Dude.”

When the school-age children spot Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Collins on the playground or out and about on post, they often shout the nickname and rush to greet him.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” says Collins, 34.

Collins, a military police officer with the Provost Marshal’s Office, is well known to many in Baumholder’s Army community for the work he does as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer in the schools.

What’s less known is that the husband and father of two is battling terminal cancer.

Through it all, he has managed to fight the odds and stay in the Army. With the time he has left, Collins says he wants to stay on the job as long as the Army will let him.

“I’m not one of those people who want to just be idle. I love my job. I try to be a mentor to the kids,” said Collins, who suffers from an inoperable malignant brain tumor.

Collins, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, joined the Army when he was 19. He re-enlisted a month ago, and at that time requested to remain in Baumholder for another three years.

The request is working its way through administrative channels, he said.

“We are sympathetic to SSG Collins’ condition and want to give him the most appropriate consideration possible,” Col. Ray A. Graham, commander of U.S. Army Garrison, Hessen, said in a prepared statement. “We will ask that he be re-evaluated by medical personnel to determine his fitness level and ability to perform his assigned duties.

If he is deemed fit and able, “he will have the option to request stabilization in his current unit of assignment and submit any necessary tour extension requests,” he said.

In the meantime, Collins is going about his business. Some doctors have told him he’s got three to five years. Others say it could be 10.

“I know what’s coming up. Don’t get me wrong, it scares me,” he said. “But you have to be positive. You have to have hope.”

Searing pain, which can strike out of nowhere, started inside Collins’ head during his 2002 deployment to Afghanistan. The pain followed him to Iraq in 2003, but Collins pressed on, uncertain about what was wrong. In 2004, following his tour in Iraq, an MRI was performed at his then-home station of Fort Drum, N.Y. The cause of the head-splitting aches was quickly uncovered.

“My cell phone rang on the way home,” he said.

In 2005, Collins was assigned to his job in Baumholder. Because of his health, it was a six-month struggle to keep those orders intact, he said.

“There aren’t too many soldiers out there with brain tumors,” Collins wryly noted.

Sgt. Todd Guyette, Collins’ boss at the Provost Marshal’s Office in Baumholder, said Collins is able to accomplish his missions.

“Needless to say I was a little surprised when he arrived. You don’t usually PCS with a terminal illness,” Guyette said.

If the rules were bent a bit to get Collins to Baumholder, he’s managed to fulfill his obligations since he’s arrived, Guyette said.

“He’s great. He’s reliable. His outlook on life is a lot better than a lot of other people,” Guyette said.

For Collins’ wife, Bianca, the concern is that her husband’s unique situation could be overlooked in the bureaucratic shuffle.

“He loves his job and he’s good at it. He’s done so much for the Army. Do something for him,” she said.

Bianca says the job is the best medicine for Kevin and gives her husband something to look forward to.

Collins acknowledges it would be easier to leave the Army. In fact, his financial situation would actually improve since he’s eligible to receive Social Security, he said.

It also would be easier to just stay in bed on the days when the pain seems unbearable.

“But in the end I want to be remembered for something other than being a soldier. I’ve touched so many lives here. If I’m not working with kids, what’s the point?” Collins said. “I’m not going to let my DARE kids down.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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