Friday, 4 December 2009

Well, the President has spoken and the wheels are in motion. It is hard to conceive the ripple effect from that one speech, or more appropriately the decision that came before the speech. I never knew how the process worked, how many signatures and recommendations and concurrences are required before a deployment order is finally signed. And I guess it's only right, considering the ramifications each deployment order has on Army, Navy and Air Force families around the world.

I'm sure you have all read opinions about the President's speech and the strategy he articulated. Each Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine has his or her own opinion, as do their families. I think the debate is an example of the great strength of our nation.

For me, I choose to leave policy debate to others while I prepare to do my best on my assigned mission. And after eight years of war I appreciate more than ever those who continue to support our Armed Forces. Organizations like the USO, American Red Cross,,, and many more (you can find links for some of them at ) provide tangible support to deployed troops and the families of those troops. I have been blessed to meet many of the people behind these organizations and to see their support first hand in the airports, on FOBs in Kuwiat, Iraq and Afghanistan and in hospitals in Theater and around the world. Whether you want to support single Soldiers, families, wounded warriors, Sailors at sea, Airmen at a remote base or veterans there is an organization for you!

As we enjoy the holidays with our familes we should all keep in mind the Marines the President has ordered to Afghanistan before Christmas. It is always hard dealing with deployments over the holidays.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Back to Afghanistan!

Well, it looks like I will finally get my wish.
The 62d Medical Brigade is heading to Afghanistan next Spring, so I should be back before my next birthday. :-)

Like every other Soldier and family member, I'm anxiously awaiting the President's decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. Unlike many, I'm okay with him taking his time with this decision. This is one he needs to get right!

I can't imagine what I will blog about on this deployment since I will be in a staff job with little or no time "outside the wire". But maybe I will be surprised. Maybe I'll see new things from a different level that will be interesting in their own way. I guess we shall see.

No matter what I blog about, and no matter where I work, I know I will spend every day working to ensure our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines receive excellent healthcare. When we ask them to go into harms way we owe them the best care available, both in Theater and back home.

I think my next post will be about our "road to war", the training we are doing and have done to prepare us for our deployment.

Until then, Adieu.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

It's all in the Family

Today LTC and Joyce's son Jeremy graduated from West Point.

Congratulations ! ! !

A photographer posted this on the site for pictures of the day.

Is Dad holding the diploma?

I am going to be in so much trouble, but it won't be the first time. Hopefully someone will be inspired to post more about the experience.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Stress in the Army Today

The headlines about the Army are alarming these days. Wherever you look there are stories about the high suicide rate in the Army. Google "Army suicide rates" and you will get lots and lots of hits. I think last month we lost more Soldiers to suicide than combat. That statistic alone will cause you to stop in your tracks.

Here at Fort Lewis we've had a few and it's gotten everyone's attention. Personally, I think it's an indication of the pace of operations and deployments, coupled with the pace of life in our cell phone, internet, ipod, blackberry world. People talk more but communicate less; families are more connected, but have less in common. Isolation leads to stress, and stress leads to depression, and depression can lead to dispair. No one likes dispair.

In the past four months I've been honored to welcome home six different units after 15-month deployments to Iraq. When each unit comes home we welcome them at the airport then hold a welcome home ceremony at a gym on post. We do this for every unit, no matter how big or small, no matter the time of day or night. And every time I attend one of these ceremonies I see the same thing; the families show up hours earlier than they need to and wait patiently (sometimes!) for their Soldiers to show up. Mothers and fathers, wives, husbands and children all come out, no matter how late or early it is, no matter how long they have to wait on hard bleachers in an old gym. When the Soldiers finally arrive, after days of Army "hurry up and wait" and after a series of long flights from Kuwait, they march in, tall and proud. They endure speeches and prayers and congratulations while separated by only ten feet from the ones they love. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, they are released and reunited with their families. And then the tears flow.

I am always amazed at the sight of families reuniting with Soldiers after a deployment. Before the ceremony I take time to meet family members and get their stories; at the airport I take time to meet Soldiers and get their stories. Then I watch these families reunite, and laugh and cry and hug and talk all at the same time. It inspires me to see what they can endure, and it breaks my heart to know how much they are asked to endure. The stress cuts across all lines; rank and age and gender and ethnicity. It shows up in some you would never expect, and in ways you would not expect.

And the sad part is that the effects of the stress do not show up immediately. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months for the effects of the stress to have an impact.

Dreams get Soldiers through a tough deployment. Dreams of a happy reunion with a beautiful wife or handsome husband and wonderful children. Dreams of a new car or motorcycle and driving across country with the wind in your hair. Dreams of the rest of your life to live, safe and whole, when others were killed or wounded.
Dreams get family members through a long separation. Dreams of their Soldier returning safe and unharmed. Dreams of a family reunited. Dreams of a shared life and shared responsibilities. Dreams of sleep free of fear.

But these same dreams, these dreams that give us strength to go on every day, sow the seeds of disappointment once we are reunited. No dream can survive the light of day.
Money is tight, so there's no new car or motorcycle. You're glad you survived, but you mourn those who did not and feel guilty for your good fortune.
Your Soldier is home, but changed after long months in combat. Your family is back together, but not whole. You sleep, but your Soldiers can't.

And whatever problems you had before a deployment are still there when you return, waiting for the most inconvenient time to resurface.

When the dreams give way to reality, and the dream fails to materialize, that's when things get hard. I would love to hear your stories of reunion and reintegration. I'll be sure to share more of mine in a future post.

I could talk all day about the stress of deployments, and the stress of homecoming, but suffice to stay that this stress, multiplied over several deployments, can bring someone to the point of depression and dispair. The Army invests a great deal of time and money and effort to identify and treat this stress, but it's like predicting an earthquake. We all know they will hit, but predicting when and where is still an inexact science at best.

I truly love my job, and I am honored to serve. Watching the reunion of Soldiers and families brings tears of joy to my eyes, but it breaks my heart when I think of all they have to go through to reintegrate and reconnect and rebuild their lives together. And yet, knowing what I know, I would still deploy again in a heartbeat. And my wife would still wait for me. At least that's my dream.

Until next time,

Phillips, out.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Back in the saddle again

No, I'm not heading back to Afghanistan, at least not yet.
That's the saddle I'd like to be back in, but fate has not been kind to me. I'm still stuck here at Fort Lewis, WA. Not a bad place to be stuck, but it's not Afghanistan.

I know it's been a long time since I posted, but I've been dealing with bouts of depression since my return and it's hard to post when everything looks black. I've been doing some reading and it seems that depression is not uncommon among veterans. I know that may not surprise some of you, and I've heard the same thing many times, but I was surprised when it happened to me. I've got everything in the world going for me; I'm not supposed to get depressed. But here I am.
Fortunately, there is help, from the VA and lots of other places. For all the bad press the VA gets, they actually have a great website and lots of great programs for returning veterans. Check out

When I returned from Afghanistan I decided to keep blogging to add one more voice to the blogosphere that told the real story about Soldiers; how they feel about the war, the country and life in general. I'd still like to do that, even if my focus shifts to include returning war veterans and their struggles to reintegrate and "get on with life". That's what I've been told to do many times in the past 9 months, but I've found it hard to do.

I often think about the final scene in Rambo, First Blood. The scene I'm thinking of is when Rambo is approached by COL Trautman in the sheriff's office, after shooting the sheriff and nearly destroying the town. He gives this long speech about how much he misses his friends from Vietnam and how hard it is to fit back in to "normal" society after all he has seen and done in the war. I always thought this scene was overly dramatic and played heavily on the stereotype of the "mentally unstable Vietnam veteran". But now I don't feel that way about this scene anymore.

If you don't remember the scene, I'm sure you can find it at

I've never seen heavy combat and never killed anyone, but I've seen the cost of war up close, the cost in lives and property. And I know lots of Soldiers who struggle to deal with what they've seen and experienced while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Everyone who deploys, whether it's for 90 days or 15 months, experiences disruptions in their family life and experiences the stress of combat. Some of them come home with PTSD, and some of them come home just missing the excitement and camaradarie of the deployment. It can be even harder on our Reserve and National Guard Soldiers who go from civilian life to combat, then back to civilian life all within a relatively short time period. And while Active Duty Soldiers are surrounded by the military, and other Soldiers who share and understand their deployment experiences, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are often surrounded by well meaning friends, family and coworkers who do not understand these experiences.

I can't tell you how many times people have said "You must be glad to be home", and then wondered why I paused, considering my response. It's tough to explain that, while I am glad to be home with my wife and children and my friends, I miss the sense of meaning and purpose that you find in combat. It's tough to explain how much you miss a place where you have little free time or privacy, where you are in constant danger. But many of us do miss it.

I once flew with a friend, a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot, who told me he never got over the thrill of flying in combat. He told me this in 2000, over 30 years after his service in Vietnam before 9-11, before I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I did not understand his comment. Now, after two deployments, I understand it very well.

I did not intend for this to be a pity party for me, but it's easier for me to talk about these issues in terms of my first hand experiences, not what I've heard or read but what I know.

And there are blessings that come from being back here at home. Soon after I redeployed I was able to work with an Iraqi family I met during my deployment to Iraq in 2003/2004. They were in the process of immigrating to the US under a program established to allow Iraqi and Afghani interpreters who worked for us in those countries to immigrate to the US. My friends were stuck in Canada and frustrated with the INS bureaucracy. I was able to work with them and the US consulate in Montreal and the Department of Homeland Security and now they are living in San Antonio, Texas. My friends and family in Texas have helped them get settled and they are starting a new life in a new country. I'm glad I could be part of that. It's something I could not have done from Afghanistan, so I guess I can be useful to someone, even here in the US.
If your interested you should check out this website:

I'll have to add some pictures in my next blog. I know blogs are much better with pictures. That's another hard thing about blogging here in the US, there are just no interesting pictures to post! But I'll get some pictures of my Iraqi friends or stryker vehicles here at Fort Lewis to add some color to my blog.

And I've got to decide what to do with my blog. I can't keep posting randomly, I need to post regularly or not at all. I'll get my act together and post more regularly.

One of my favorite movies is Holiday Inn, a 1942 movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

If you've never seen it you should pick up a copy at your local video store, in the classics section. I'm thinking about using that idea for my blog, which would at least keep me on track for blogging once a month or so.

Thank you for reading this blog and thank you for supporting our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.

Phillips, out.