Small Wars Journal

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

Mentor: A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

Without waxing poetic - mentors are crucial to leadership development and should a military mentor hall of fame exist - retired US Army Colonel John Collins would be one of the first inductees.

Colonel Collins has given his kind permission to post the following e-mail and attachment (letter to General Robert Kingston) -- a piece of history, a fine example of mentorship as it should be and proof-positive that the requirement for sage advice does not diminish with rank - enough said.

I've accumulated many valued acquaintances since childhood, despite being a loner all my life, but General Barbwire Bob Kingston remains my only close friend. I've missed him every day since he checked out on 28 February 2007, a year ago next Thursday. I was Bob's boss in the 82d Airborne Division when he was a captain and his faculty adviser when he was a lieutenant colonel student at the National War College.

My advice didn't stop after he wore stars. I thought perhaps you might like to review my August 1981 correspondence to Robert regarding the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF). It focused primarily on the Persian Gulf after Soviet armed forces invaded Afghanistan, but important parts remain pertinent today (see attached letter, written by hand because I had no secretary and couldn't type). Marine Lieutenant General P. X. Kelley was the first RDJTF commander. The key question was: Who should replace P.X. when his tenure expired? Plans called for amphibious assaults to seize footholds in Iran if required, but Pentagon computers confirmed that no active duty Marine flag officer had ever landed under enemy fire, whereas Major General Kingston had hit the beach as a second lieutenant at Inchon on Korea's west coast in September 1950. Bob got the job and pinned on three stars.

John M. Collins is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a distinguished visiting research fellow at the National Defense University. Collins culminated his military career as the director of military strategy studies and then as chief of the Strategic Research Group at the National War College. He was subsequently the senior specialist in national defense at the Congressional Research Service for twenty-four years.

Note: General Robert Barrow, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, also landed at Inchon during the Korean War but was, at that time, considered too senior for command of the RDJTF. Links were added to Colonel Collins' e-mail for background purposes.