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Civilian discovers true purpose with the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Darrius Parker
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

How long did it take you to discover your true purpose in life? Some people find the solution to that question rapidly, while others work and wait to receive that answer.

Jonie Collins received her answer when she chose to join the Air Force family as a civilian.

“The Air Force has given me a great career. I have met a lot of great people. Because the Air Force is such a small world, some of those people I saw again later on in my career. It makes you feel like you are part of another family,” she said.

Collins was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. After graduating from St. John the Baptist Academy, Collins was accepted into Airline Stewardess School.

It was at this time that fate first brought her to the Air Force through marriage, and rather than pursuing a career in flight, she chose the life of a military spouse. In 1976, her desire to travel was answered when she and her husband were assigned to Royal Air Force Chisksands, England, for their first overseas posting. 

As the Air Force moved Collins and her family to different locations such as Illinois and Japan for her husband’s career, she found the education environment conducive to work as a military spouse. During this time, Collins worked for the dean at Central Texas College’s Japan location, and she worked in the  financial aid office at St. Louis of Missouri while they lived in Illinois.

Once Collins’ husband completed 30 years of active duty Air Force service and achieved the rank of chief master sergeant, they retired to Springfield, Ohio, close to her husband’s hometown. While Collins’ husband found work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, she took a position at nearby Antioch University.

However, despite years in the education field, Collins was eager to try something new and soon sought work at Wright-Patterson. Collins started her Air Force civilian career as a secretary in the controlled mailroom. Though an unpleasant start had her considering leaving civilian service early, her husband encouraged her to see if things improved when she received a promotion.  

“It was all education-related by the time I got to Antioch. After Antioch, I got a wakeup call once I started working on the base. My husband encouraged me to stick with it so that I could reap the benefits, and I did,” she said. 

Remaining at WPAFB turned out to be the best thing for Collins. After the mailroom, Collins took a promotion at the Air Force Institute of Technology, which inserted her back in the educational environment.

“I felt great being back in an educational environment since I have always worked there. I loved the education environment,” she said.

After completing one year at AFIT, Collins was promoted to a position in AFMC headquarters as secretary to the deputy director and the director of contracting. She discovered an opportunity to visit Dallas, Texas for a protocol convention.  It was this experience that lead Collins to decide that protocol was her purpose.

“Once I came back from Dallas, I knew that I could do that job. My husband told me I had to go and beat my own drum if I wanted to get the job I wanted. I decided to talk to the chief of protocol. I told him that if he needed anybody, he should think of my name first because I have the personality, I like to be around people and I know I can do it,” she said.

After 13 years in contracting, Collins accepted a position in the protocol field that would allow her to grow from a GS-9 to a GS-12.

Collins has now committed 16 years to protocol, and will retire this December.

Collin’s responsibilities include supporting and advising the Air Force Materiel Command commander, deputy commander, executive director, director of staff, command chief and other directors on all matters pertaining to protocol. Protocol includes rules, procedures and certain forms of courtesies to be abided in events that comprises honorable and leading officials. It also includes providing guidance and advice to AFMC field protocol offices.

During her time at WPAFB, Collins has come to realize just how important AFMC is to the mission of the Air Force. Her career as a civilian has assisted her growth as an Airman, and as an individual.

“I am more outgoing, confident and open minded. I was very introverted. I am still changing and adapting, but the Air Force has helped me grow as a person,” said Collins. “AFMC is a family that works as a team. There may be leads of certain projects, but none of it can be done without all of the other smaller pieces. If one of the pieces are missing, then it throws everybody off. AFMC is a command, but it is also a community. We all have to work together.”

A few years ago, Collin’s husband passed away. Collins always remember how he motivated her to keep pushing herself to be her best.

“My husband passed away five years ago but I thank him, and I appreciate him, for pushing me by saying that I needed to do this, and that I need to join WPAFB because now I will have a good retirement. I will always be thankful to him for that,” she said.

AFMC is grateful to have Airmen, such as Collins, who are dedicated and motivated to provide the strategic and supportive planning that is needed in order to accomplish the mission.

This story is the fourth in the series to show who the people are within AFMC. It features not just those who wear the uniform, but a diverse set of military and civilians across AFMC. Whether civilian or military, all are Airmen supporting the Air Force mission.