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Collins named leader of National Guard unit

Soldiers of the Army National Guard’s 155th Separate ArmoredBrigade have a new commanding officer.

Col. Leon Collins was appointed to replace Brig. Gen. BenGaston, who is unable to deploy with the unit for operations inIraq because of a medical condition.

“He is a true warrior and extremely talented military leader,and it is unfortunate that he will not be able to deploy forwardwith the brigade,” said Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, the adjutantgeneral, in a press release. “However, we will continue to use hisvaluable talents and leadership in the Mississippi NationalGuard.”

The 155th SAB, headquartered in Tupelo, comprises units in 49locations throughout the state, including Brookhaven, Monticello,McComb, Crystal Springs, Prentiss and Tylertown. More than 3,500soldiers are assigned to the brigade.

Component units will be mobilizing to Camp Shelby throughoutAugust for three months of in-processing and post-mobilizationtraining before deploying to Fort Irwin, Calif., for a three-weeklong mission rehearsal exercise, according to Maj. Danny Blanton ofthe National Guard’s 102nd Public Affairs Office in Jackson. Theywill deploy to Iraq once their mobilization training iscomplete.

The 106th Support Battalion Headquarters Company, based inMonticello, left today for Camp Shelby. Brookhaven’s Detachment 2of the 155th Infantry Battalion is scheduled to depart for CampShelby Aug. 25.

Collins, a Booneville native, has previously commanded at theplatoon, company and battalion levels of the 155th.

“He is an exceptionally bright and highly respected officer,fully skilled in the combat arms,” Cross said. “I am confident thatthe soldiers of the 155th SAB will be in the best hands possiblewith Colonel Collins in the lead.”

Collins graduated from Booneville High School in 1975. He is agraduate of Northeast Community College and the University ofMississippi and holds a master’s degree from Jackson StateUniversity and a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S.Army War College.

“I fully support General Cross’s decision to place ColonelCollins in such an important position,” said Gov. Haley Barbour. “Iknow Colonel Collins will do an excellent job leading our soldiersof the 155th.”

The 155th was established on June 1, 1799. It is the state’soldest National Guard unit, predating statehood, and is the seventholdest infantry regiment in the U.S. Army.

They patrolled the frontiers of the Mississippi Territory,captured Aaron Burr, went with Andrew Jackson to New Orleans,captured Monterey under Jefferson Davis’ command as the MississippiRifles in the Spanish American War, fought against Pancho Villa onthe Mexican border in 1916, and saw combat in World Wars I and IIwith the 31st Infantry Division.

The brigade was called up in late June as part of a PresidentialPartial Mobilization of Reserve Forces to support operations inIraq. Under partial mobilization orders, reservists can beactivated for 24 months, but that period can be extended orshortened depending on the needs of the Army, Blanton said.