Augustus Leon Collins had not considered a military career when joining the Mississippi National Guard on a fateful day in 1977. “My plan was to sign up, complete my tour, and get out, ” the Boonville, Mississippi, native recalls, “but I kept advancing in the ranks.” Collins enlisted as a private, he left as a major general.
Today he oversees another army, an automotive workforce, turning out millions of Nissans. He works for MINACT, a Jackson, Mississippi-based contractor, supporting the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps program in states throughout the country. Collins is board of directors member, treasurer, executive officer and more. MINACT is also the parent company of MINACT Logistics, which provides material handlers for Nissan.
“We put education and training in the hands of those needing it the most, ” says the company website. The company screens, trains and background checks all applicants. Collins’ team is part of the process. “We are fortunate to have him, ” notes Reuben V. Anderson, chairman of the board. “He brings so many assets and is a natural born leader.”
His wealth of experience ranges from Mississippi to Iraq. Collins’ military career includes active duty in Operation Desert Shield/Storm as well as commanding the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2006. While serving in Iraq, on May 10, 2005, he was promoted to brigadier general, the first African American to attain the rank of general officer in the Mississippi National Guard.
Collins was later assigned as Director of Mobilization, United States Army Forces Command, Fort McPherson, Georgia, from 2006 to 2007. In 2007, he was appointed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to serve as one of the three commissioners for the Mississippi Worker’s Compensation Commission until 2010 when he accepted a position with MINACT as executive vice president for strategic planning.
In 2012, Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Collins the adjutant general of Mississippi and named him major general in 2012. For MINACT, the general’s skills were transferable to business and recruiting, training and the craftsmanship demands of building automobiles. “Managing people — that’s what the military is all about and that is what business is all about, ” says Collins.
Opening in 2003, the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant was the first car manufacturer in Mississippi. The 1, 038-acre facility is MINACT’s only automobile production client to date. But MINACT has been onsite since day one. It staffs a workforce that makes Altima, Frontier, Murano, MV Cargo, MV Passenger, Titan and Titan XDs. More than 3 million cars have rolled out.
In addition to vehicles, the site assembles a $400 million annual payroll; contributes $2.9 billion to Mississippi’s gross domestic product, and pays $3.3 billion in local and state tax revenues.
About 600 MINACT supplied material handler staff members assume responsibility for all aspects of moving parts. But before building cars in Canton, you’re screened by the general or his team.
“Material handlers are a broad range, ” adds Collins. “They carry parts, inventory supplies and distribute where needed in the plant, on the floor and down the line.”
Collins says, “Once Nissan tells us what they need and how many, our responsibility is to perform all the background checks.” But for the general, it’s more than supplying a workforce. It is changing lives. “Nissan provides a great service to Central Mississippi by providing jobs, ” he says. “There is a need, especially for young people, and especially for Mississippi. So many drop out of high school without academic education and no skills to make a living.
“Any time we can help someone obtain meaningful employment, it can change a life. We may lead someone on the right track, reduce need for dependency on government programs, and in some cases, possibly may keep someone out of prison. If you can make a good living, you’re less likely to get in trouble.”
Collins also believes good jobs are earned. “The world cares very little who you are or where you came from. What matters is if you can produce. Those who can, advance; those who can’t, will not.”
In addition to training, Collins oversees eight Job Corps programs. As a general, he once commanded 12, 275 citizen soldiers and airmen and oversaw multi-million-dollar military budgets. He draws comparisons, strengths and insight, from those he served with on foreign soil. “People often ask me ‘What was it like in Iraq?’” he says. “That’s easy. I was impressed with the dedication and resiliency of the U.S. service men and women. Nothing for them was too big to accomplish. They were willing to give their all to make sure we were successful.”
Collins earned his first star in Iraq, but his latest star is a three-year-old grandson. When not working, the general spends time with family, is a church deacon and plays golf.
As for the future, the man who Governor Bryant called, “A soldier’s soldier, ” dedicates his talents to helping others. “I want to teach and train, ” he says.
Today the military leader turned businessman still strives for the can-do attitude, give-it-all spirit in his work. It is also his expectation of others, be they students in school, soldiers on the field, or material handlers, rolling out Nissans.
TEXT By EMMETT BURNETT