"My first trip out of the United Stated was to Iraq, so you can imagine the culture shock that I had," she says. "Your M-16 is your best friend. You give it a name and you get to know it well because you never know when the enemy is going to strike, so you're always worried. I woke up to countless mortar attacks and heard so many car bombs."
Along with her M-16, Sgt. Collins also carried a video camera, filing reports for Armed Forces radio and television.
One of her videos shows her riding in an Army jeep in Iraq.
"We're going into Baghdad. We're running on about 48 hours with no sleep," Sgt. Collins says. Soon after, she reports: "We're at Saddam's palace right now."
The opulence of Saddam's palace stood in stark contrast to another sight that caught Sgt. Collins' attention.
"As a military broadcaster, I went all over the country of Iraq," she says, "and the one thing I noticed is that these kids just didn't have any shoes. And then, running around a war-torn country, they're getting cuts on their feet."
Interacting with Iraqi children inspired Sgt. Collins to launch what she calls "Kicks For Kids."
"I just wrote an e-mail to my friends and family and I said, 'Please send me shoes, any kind of shoes," she says. "Send them to me in lieu lf care packages. I don't really need anything. I'm fine.' "
Word spread quickly and 15,000 shoes of every shape and size showed up. With help from other soldiers, Sgt. Collins began distributing them.
"These kids, you just love them," she says. "When I would go out and actually give a pair of shoes to a kid, I would see how happy they were. An old pair of shoes for an American kid is a brand new shoe, and a brand new outlook, for an Iraqi kid. It's fantastic."
Although Sgt. Collins doesn't speak Arabic, she found that a smile and hug are universal and worked just fine.
"Just kneeling in front of them and touching them and touching their hand," she says. "There's that human touch that draws the connection between the Iraqi and the American soldier. I don't know that I'll ever, in my life, have a chance to be so selfless. To help people I don't know, to help protect the freedoms of people I'll never meet, but I'm serving the United States, and there's nothing that can beat that."
Although Sgt. Collins has arrived safely back on American soil, she anticipates returning to Iraq in the future. For now, though, she will help the little ones from home.
Instead of throwing out shoes, just send them to Sgt. Collins. Send her an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She'll make sure they get on the feet of Iraqi kids, who need them so much. In spite of the war that surrounds them, they still are able to smile.