Local soldiers honored for bravery
Overcome with tears, Lt. Dan Berschinski tried to speak, but his voice failed him.
Instead, he let his actions speak volumes. Berschinski rolled over to Sharon Collins and gave her a tearful hug of condolence for the loss of her son, Army Lt. Robert Collins, who died in Iraq when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.
It was an exchange of grief, of loss, and also of knowing that Lt. Collins paved the way for his men to succeed and in turn left a legacy few can match.
Lt. Berschinski himself paid a steep price to combat terrorists and secure Afghanistan. In August, an improvised explosive device robbed him of his legs, which were amputated from the knee down.
“Quite honestly, I have no regrets, and I’m sure that Robert doesn’t have any regrets.” said Lt. Berschinski, who like Lt. Collins was a junior officer in the Army. “Because being with other soldiers and fighting with them, alongside them, no matter where you are and how you feel about a particular war, that’s really where the payoff is.”
Berschinski has been learning to walk with prosthetic legs, but that is nothing compared to what truly bothers him.
“The hardest part is just sitting around now while my guys are over in Afghanistan, and I’m sure Robert’s men are still over in Iraq,” Berschinski said. “That’s really the toughest thing.”
Berschinski was honored Thursday night by the Fayette County Commission, alongside Lt. Collins’ family. Both were presented with proclamations and kind words. Commissioner Jack Smith urged the community to do everything it can to help both families in their time of need.
Berschinski said he was simply “honored” to be recognized alongside Lt. Collins and his family and that he was just “blown away” by her composure. He also reminded the audience that the military still faces a “tough time” in Iraq, where Collins was killed, and Afghanistan, where he was critically injured, also by an explosive device.
As to his recovery, Berschinski makes it sound like a piece of cake.
“For me the hard stuff is over really. Trust me, this isn’t that bad. ... All I have to do is work out every day, bust my butt in the gym, and I’ll be fine.”
Berschinski particularly credited “some of the most inspiration therapists i’ve ever met” who have guided him in his workouts as he proceeds toward recovery.
“I’m surrounded by guys every day who gave all that they could and they’re still here,” Berschinski said. “I’m just blown away by you Mrs. Collins and the sacrifice your son made.”
Mrs. Collins, herself a retired Army Lt. Col., said her family was very grateful to the community “for rallying around us.”
“I think without the support of family, friends, neighbors, it would be hard to stand up here and accept these honors on behalf of our son,” she said.
She noted that Lt. Collins made a commitment to join the military on Sept. 11 2001 when terrorists hijacked airliners to attack New York and Washington, D.C., killing thousands. At the time, he was attending Sandy Creek High School.
“I think he would have been thankful for all the attention and support we have received,” Mrs. Collins said. “I mourn for the future he would have had but I know through his leadership in combat, and his demand for soldiers to maintain standards, that five soldiers survived the accident where he and his driver were killed.”
She also noted that Lt. Collins’ battalion had another recent casualty due to sniper fire.
“Our heart goes out to the leadership and the soldiers of that battalion, because I know it’s hard for them to get up every day and continue doing the mission,” Mrs. Collins said.