While some people want a quiet life, others crave adventure and to see the world around them. Terry Mitchell Collier is one of the adventurers.
Born in Oxnard in 1961, Collier grew up in the military lifestyle. Her father was an aviation storekeeper who was stationed at Point Mugu, before being transferred to Washington and Texas, then finally settling his family back to California.
“There was good and bad to growing up in a military family,” Collier said. “The good was that we got to see so many places and meet so many people. Living on base we had access to so many facilities like the gym, the movies and the chow hall. I was an introvert and going from place to place made it hard to make friends. Going from Washington to south Texas there’s a whole different demographic and it took longer for me to adjust.”
Eventually Collier began studying at Oxnard College, but after a year of taking general education classes, she still struggled to find direction and drive in her life. Though she did not initially consider a military career an option out of high school, Collier felt a sense of wanderlust and remembered her father’s exciting military career.
“My dad was always talking about the Navy and I just thought he has such awesome stories about how he traveled to so many different places that I also wanted to have that experience,” she said. “Oxnard is awesome, but I didn’t want to stay there. Living in Southern California can feel like that’s just your world unless you go out and meet different people, so enlisting was a very pivotal decision for me because the Navy is a big melting pot of people from everywhere.”
In April 1981, Collier enlisted in the Navy, motivated to follow in her father’s footsteps.
“Because he was in the Navy I never considered any other branch, that just would have been weird,” she said. “Watching my dad study so diligently and work so hard for advancement in ranking really helped make me better at studying.”
From boot camp at Naval Training Center in Orlando, Collier was sent to A-School for eight months at the Naval Support Activity in Millington, Tennessee, where she trained to be an aviation support equipment technician, a job that she picked from a brochure because it seemed exciting and she had taken auto shop in high school.
When choosing where to be stationed, Collier decided on the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California, because it was far from Oxnard but close enough to still visit her parents. Also, it sounded picturesque.
“You don’t have a phone and you can’t just look up China Lake,” she said. “China Lake sounded like it would be really beautiful with a lake up north and lots of pine trees. There hasn’t been a lake there since the dinosaurs from what I understand and it’s just this flat bed of salt.”
After four years, Collier’s time in the military was up and she had yet to achieve her initial goal of travelling with the military, so she reenlisted in 1984 and was stationed at the Naval Air Facility in Atsuki, Japan, to oversee a department with the Ground Support Equipment department within the Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Division.
Though she had a leadership position, Collier found herself, as a technician and mechanic, in a line of work that was heavily dominated by men who were none too eager to be led by a woman. She found herself being challenged to prove her worth to the people she worked with.
“As a short female minority who weighed about 105 pounds, I had a lot of challenges, but that taught me how to be able to relate to people and manage them on their level,” she said. “I remember one guy saying, ‘I bet you can’t even carry that transmission across the bay.’ I said, ‘Why would I carry it when I could use the forklift, which is faster, more efficient and done right?’ That got him in line and we eventually became good friends, but you get tested like that.”
While stationed in Japan, Collier was able to complete her goal of travelling, exploring Japan and also taking trips to the nearby Philippines and Korea.
“There were people who never left the base and always ate at McDonald’s,” she said. “But I would get some friends together and take motorcycles to Kyoto and places where nobody was speaking English. That taught me that you could communicate with people who you’re not even speaking the same language. Music was the one that really brought a lot of folks together.”
She also joined the Atsugi Flyers, an all-female travelling Naval softball team, as first baseman.
“First basemen are usually tall with long arms that can stretch, but I was very flexible and fast so you could throw something wild and I would catch it; I could do no wrong and it was like I could fly,” Collier said, laughing. “Sometimes when I think I can’t do something, I’ll think back to that time when I was invincible.”
Eventually, Collier realized that fixing aviation gear was not her passion and it was time to move on. In April 1987, Collier was honorably discharged from the Navy as a Petty Officer Second Class, though she continued to serve as active duty reserve until October 1989.
Post Military Life
Since high school, Collier was involved in drama and theater and knew she wanted to work in entertainment. She decided to take the leap to try acting professionally, so she moved in with her parents and began to take classes at the now-defunct Golden Gate School in Chatsworth. Though she was able to secure work as an extra and in commercials, even getting her Screen Actors Guild membership, Collier soon realized she was “a little too sensitive” for the repeated rejections and auditions that are inherent to the job.
Collier began to work behind the scenes on different productions until one day she was hired by the media relations department of ABC after doing some freelance travel booking for them. After working her way up through the company, Collier decided that what she really wanted to do was to produce the behind the scenes content for electronic press kits. Eventually Collier became the vice president of digital broadcast communications and productions for ABC/Disney, supervising other producers and overseeing media coverage for events like the Emmys and the announcement of the Disney acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, among other projects.
“I did the whole stair step of grinding my way up from assistant to director to producer and on up,” she said. “That made me a great vice president because when it came to, for example, sending somebody to book a satellite media tour, I knew how to do all that work that was involved and no one could BS me. Once I got to that level the difficult part was that I wanted to be in the edit bay I want to help edit instead of approving expense reports.”
Unfortunately, after 18 years with ABC/Disney, Collier was laid off. As she took time to figure out what to pursue next, people came to her asking for advice on how to promote their scripts or themselves as artists. Inspiration soon took hold and in 2014 Collier launched her company 20 Mill Inc., which specializes in marketing, publicity and media relations. Her list of clients includes the Santa Clarita Philharmonic Orchestra, Valencia Christian Center and WGN America.
Collier also likes to lend her talents to the community and volunteers to do marketing and publicity for the Valencia High School band, the Rio Norte Junior High School band and Jack and Jill of America.
“I think I need to scale back on my charitable work a little, but I feel like this is my time to give back while also making money,” she said. “Right now I have the comfort of choice in my clients and rather than taking on these multi-million-dollar brands, I find joy in grabbing those screenwriters and musicians who are great at their craft, but don’t know how to brand themselves and starting from the ground up.”
Collier has not lost her passion for acting, though, and has continued to work over the years, appearing in infomercials, an M&Ms commercial, an episode of “Home Made Simple” on the Oprah Winfrey Network and in a small role in the Mel GIbson film “Forever Young.”
Currently, Collier is working on promoting the upcoming musical play “The Water Way,” which tells the story of the St. Francis Dam. Collier also said that she would like to grow 20 Mill.
“It’s like how ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes,’ I have to work on my own brand,” she said. “I need to take a step back and see what kind of client I need next, whether it be taking on one or two big companies or keeping on with all my smaller clients.”
Overall, Collier views her time in the military fondly and says it formed her into an effective leader.
“Being in the military taught me how to take the emotion out of a project to get it done, to work with so many individuals with different mindsets and tune into what they bring to get the job done,” she said. “You hear all these stories and stigma about people who were in the military like they all have PTSD or other issues, but that’s their strength. If I had a project I would treat it like a dodgeball team and pick all veterans because they’re going to kick butt. I know it.”