Gold Star

Guest Author: Mr. Steven Phillips.

Mr. Phillips is the Father of fallen Soldier Army Spc. Micheal E. Phillips of Ardmore, Oklahoma, USA. Micheal was  KIA February 24, 2008. He was assigned and deployed with the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Air Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky and was Killed in Action (KIA) in Baghdad, Iraq, from wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.

Micheal had gone off to Ft Benning Georgi a the same way that I had so many years ago. The Army is huge and within the Army there are various categories of jobs and there are combat arms jobs and support jobs. The bottom line for all of this is that the whole Army support the combat arms people, Combat arms is the “point of the spear”. Without the support the people in combat arms cannot do their job and that means basically that we lose wars. There are different classes or fraternities within the combat arms family. There is Armor, Infantry Artillery to mention a few.

These different groups are close knit as any family ever! They will fight the other clans tooth and nail and will take every opportunity available to scoff at and ridicule the other clans. But when there is a foe to face, these barriers disappear and they are all together to fight this enemy and to protect their own. I think everyone has heard of this “band of brothers” reference about the military. This is something that you have either experienced or you have not, it’s hard to describe but it is and always has been real.

There are far too many who minimize this or in fact scoff at the mere idea of the brotherhood. Long ago, I served in the Army as an Infantryman. I have stayed in contact with a few of my brothers. I freely admit and I speak only for myself that we “cold war types” do not have the same bond as my son and other combat veterans past and present share with each other. These are far better men that we were.

I took the whole week off as vacation to go out and watch my son graduate from the Infantry Training School at Ft Benning Georgia. My buddy Don who served with me in Aschaffenburg, Germany with the 1st BN 4th INF of the Third Infantry Division so long ago came along as neither of us wanted to miss this and neither of us had been there since we were 18 years old. We had looked forward to the road trip for the entire time Micheal was there.

We arrived at Ft Benning and it’s almost eerie to see the place, smell the smells and hear the sounds of the infantry again after so long. We drove around the post for a couple of hours and just tried to find the things that we lived so long ago. We saw the formations drilling and many young troops walking in loose single file “route step” down the trails and roads of the base. We drove down through the ranges and heard the weapons and smelled the cordite in the air. We heard the far off thunder-like “whumps” of artillery or mortars. It was like being in a time machine.

We found Don’s old barracks and Sand Hill, but the training areas and barracks that I had lived in had been bulldozed long ago. Just for the record; Harmony Church was where I lived and trained, it’s no longer there. We visited a few of the shops like “Ranger Joes” and such outside the gates in Columbus, Georgia and then headed down the strip to find a hotel. All of the hotels in the area where packed! I was happy to see the people there to see their sons graduate. Three different groups where graduating that week. We were ready to greet my son and spend some time with him the next day during “Family Day”. We ended up staying in Alabama, just over the river.

We got up early and headed back on post to get to the parade ground to see the unit march smartly into view. The echo of cadence rang through the air, the staccato sound of boots on the ground sounded like thunder. The memories were so thick that it was really hard to sit still. The unit marched in and formed up and to be honest, I cannot even remember what the heck was being said or who was saying it. I found myself with a problem and one that I’m sure most everyone else there was having. There were a couple of hundred fine, fit, bronzed, practically bald young men wearing exactly the same thing finding Micheal in that crowd was not going to be easy.

The announcer explained a little about the “turning blue” ceremony and what the blue infantry cord meant, and allowed the friends and family to go out and present and affix the blue cord to their soldier’s uniform. I scurried around like an idiot trying to find my kid for a few moments and finally heard Don hollering almost frantically for me who had found and was of course busy hugging the stuffing out of Micheal. I walked up and just stared at him for a moment. He was a very impressive sight there among his peers. We chatted for a second and he handed me his brand new infantry cord. It was a bit awkward, but I got the blue cord fixed up and my son was now officially “blue”.

As all infantrymen before him and all infantrymen who are yet to be welcomed into the frat, will forever be included in the roles of one of the finest forces the world has ever known. It was a pretty emotional event for me and I hope for Micheal. All around the formation, families were greeting their new and improved sons. America should be proud of all these fine young men. I know that at that moment I was never so proud of my son. He was no longer just mine; he was his own man and belonged to the men who would forever be his closest friends.  He was one of America’s best products.

My son as all military people who are killed in foreign countries was flown out of Iraq, into Germany and then to Dover AFB for final prepping and identifications and all the rest of the jobs that they have been doing since the Vietnam war. We were told when he arrived there and our casualty officer informed us that when they were releasing him, that he would call us with an ETA. They at this point did not know where they would fly him into.

We may have had to drive to Dallas TX (a hundred miles away) and then return. But the casualty officer worked hard to get my son flown directly into the Ardmore Airpark. We got the notification that my son was coming home a day or so later. The plans were made and the time set. We had met with the Patriot Guard a couple of days earlier and they were on board to escort us to the Airpark and then to the funeral home.  There had already been call from the kooks from Wichita inquiring about my son’s arrival.

The day started like most for me in those days, with very little sleep and a lot of wandering around the dark house and yards just trying to make some sense of the changes in our lives in the past week. The morning was cool, overcast and raining off and on certainly my mood fit the weather. The night before had been huge thunderstorms and tornado’s dancing around the state. I heard the arrival of the lead element for the trip out to the airport. The Ardmore police motorcycle officers had arrived along with a Sheriff. The young deputy was ex-military and ex-101st Airborne, he wore his air assault wings on his Sheriff Uniform and had them also displayed on the rear window of his cruiser. The patriot guard was right behind them and I greeted then and thanked them for being there for us on this less than beautiful day. We gathered around talked and nervously shuffled around and readied ourselves for the trip ahead. My Son was coming home to us today.

The limo for us had arrived, and the driver who was also an Iraq veteran greeted us and was on the phone with the funeral director who was on the phone with the military folks and the Air Park to tell us when we should start that way.

The call came in and we got into the limo and did our best to not talk too much or look each other in the eyes. Well, maybe that was just me? I wanted to be anywhere but there at the time. We made the trip out to the Airpark and I had to catch a breath when we got onto the Airpark to see the hundreds of motorcycles and the people who had gathered to be there when my son came home. They were respectful as a group of hundreds could be and stayed back away from the hanger where the plane would park to unload their precious cargo. A few media types from a local unnamed station almost had to be physically removed from the hanger itself by different security.  They were not welcomed there no matter how much they insisted that they were.

The limo came to a stop and the driver got out and talked to some of the people there. Because of the weather mainly we were asked if we wanted to stay in the limo for a while. I was getting way too claustrophobic and antsy to sit inside anywhere and had to get out and get into the weather. I walked over to the line of cars near the hangar and talked with my Dad and a few of the relatives and close friends who had assembled near the hanger for a while. We got the alert that the plane was almost there and that the pilot had really put the spurs to it to get there when they were supposed to. The gray sky was making it a bit difficult to see but I heard the sound of the plane and soon it came into the pattern and landed. A larger private jet was contracted by the military.

The white plane loudly taxied on its own up to the hanger and was shut down. The silence at that point was almost nerve wracking. They hooked a tow motor up to the plane and slowly dragged it all the way up into the hangar to the waiting honor guard. They were a squared away group and I never got even a whiff of any of them not being serious and on task the entire time they stood with us through this. The plane was chocked and as they were locking down, the hearse which I don’t even remember noticing was put into position right outside the hangar.  They opened the aircraft up and placed some rolling accordion support thing out to the door which seemed more of a trouble than it was worth.

I had been holding on to Angie (Mrs. Phillips, mother of the Fallen) for this whole time and felt my family’s presence as we stood huddled together inside the hangar. The second that the edge of the flag draped casket came into view from the inside of the plane. For a brief moment in time I was standing there completely alone it was just he and I alone in the world. There was only one other time that I felt like this, and that was the first few moments after he was born and they handed him to me. I guess this is the point in time where I made contact with him on that same emotional level. That moment was quickly over and the honor guard marched over to receive my son from the plane.

They very orderly and purposefully took the coffin and placed in into the waiting hearse while all of the military and the air crew saluted or covered their hearts. We made our way back to the limo and climbed inside. The procession started to form right there. The line started to grow, the hearse made it’s way out onto the main road leading out to the two lane highway and the patriot guard led us out of the Airpark, there were hundreds of bikes leading the way out, we passed through the Airpark and right by the Dollar General DC where I worked for a few years, they had all but shut down the whole DC and all of the employees were out on the grass showing their respect.

The slow ride back to town was full of glimpses of the caring people of the area. There was one that really stood out in my mind. as we made our way through the farmlands that surround the Airpark. I spotted a lone figure of a farmer surrounded by a low gray mist way off in his field with his hand over his heart solemnly watching the long line of vehicles. I have no idea who he was, but that incident really made me feel that this wasn’t all just something we were dealing with alone as just one single family.

The huge procession rolled down the two-lane highway and got to Highway 77 and made the turn south towards town. There were people stopping and getting out of the cars, some knew what was going on and a few others just looked completely confused. As we got closer to town the local police had blocked the cross traffic. I was saddened a bit that some of the city policemen just slouched around, some wore their hats and others did not and looked completely bothered by the whole thing.

We entered town at the north and rumbled all the way through the cemetery at the south end. There were literally hundreds of people who gathered at the road side and stopped what they were doing to show support for us and the young man who went off to a hostile foreign land and died representing them all trying to do the right thing. There were a few familiar faces in the crowds, but it was hard to really concentrate on much as we neared the final turn into the cemetery. The weather had cleared enough by this point that the temperatures were high enough to preclude the wearing of coats and wet weather gear.

The hearse came to a stop at the door of the funeral home, the honor guard assembled and dutifully removed the flag draped coffin and smartly moved it into one of the large rooms in the building. They placed in on the parapet and smartly moved away under a low toned cadence. The funeral director spoke with us and told us to take as much time as we liked in the room alone as a family. All I could do was to silently try mentally connect to my son, as I rested my hand on the top of the coffin. I can only hope that he heard me and knows all that I said. It was good at least to have him home.

-Febuary 23rd, 2015.

At this moment 7 years ago, I was a whole man, a whole person, belonging to a whole family. In a few short hours 7 years ago, the world for me changed. I will probably skirt on some of the ways that we as a family were affected but that is not really even possible. I am just shooting from the hip with this tonight and I may by the end of this post, be a little less than sober.  We all knew a different Micheal, we all shared the same Micheal and we all lost our Micheal.

This is how I live my life it seems and it will probably be this way until I too am gone from the planet. We grow up as humans evolving and choosing who we want to be or who we strive to be. All I ever wanted to be was a family man who raised his kids to be good people. I never planned on raising astronauts or world leaders. I just wanted to raise kids who were good humans who would live, love, laugh and who in turn would raise more good humans to do the same.

When we are handed out sons and daughters mere moments of them taking their first breaths We are at a bit of a loss for sure. We are worried about our wives, but we have been offered a golden moment that should be taken, cherished and never really disclosed to anyone. It is the first talk with a human who you have had a part in bringing to the world. This is a stellar moment that I selfishly took for myself and for my children. Every one of the four! I was handed a fresh, wonderful smelling new human who had no vices, no hatred, a clean slate. I can still smell the smell of the new life…

Guilt, shame or hell?

The represents many things to those on the outside looking in and probably depending on what stage of the process we happen to living in at that moment, many more to us. There are a lot of levels of hells in numerous theologies and philosophies. The Buddhist sect that I studied taught that there are a lot of levels of hell and there is only one person who can take you there and or get you out. That person is you. I can tell you from personal experiences that this is very true or maybe just true to me. I have been in and out of these hells my whole life and more often since losing my son. To a father an old infantryman and a man there are separate hells and shames for each.

Guilt, shame or hell?

My children have been taught that they are indeed responsible for their actions and there is no one who can be blamed for their actions good and or bad. I have striven since they were small to teach them about the world and the history of mankind. Myself the “kind” really doesn’t fit the human animal in anyway. I have been a follower of histories of man, good men, bad men all men. I have read and encouraged my kids to learn history from all points of view. To help people who are being oppressed and to hate the human animals who seem to love to hurt people. This is one of my shames and one of the hell’s.

Guilt, shame or hell?

I joined the military because of my desire to be ready and trained in the coming age of the latest version of the religious armies. They were on the march before I was of age, but I understood what these humans could be capable of. There have been religious armies of humans on this planet before. I was aware of this and made my children aware of this. Be sure that no man is never more happy to kill when he feels that he does so with the blessings of his chosen god. I trained and I trained hard, It never happened on my watch

Guilt, shame or hell?

I never had to put this training and desire to stop the religious animals to the test, it would have to be left to our children and our children’s children. The threats where there, the warning given, the unanswered alarm and the deaths of many humans for simply daring to be in the wrong place or simple be labeled by these religious armies as the “enemy” to their god. The world was and still is willing to accept the death of many innocent people when it is they who are not forced to live in the crosshairs. Those in power appeased and the ignorant masses slept and played and went on like there were no cares in the world.

Guilt, shame or hell?

The attacks of 9/11 made the world wake up, some people in the world decided that they could accept this as long as it meant that they were not going to be inconvenienced or have to maybe face the awful truth that there were literally millions of humans who were willing to do the same exact thing to other people who have done nothing but refused to accept their version of their god or have supported others who have survived in spite of their never ending desire to kill them off. Not only would these people kill you, they would be hailed as gods themselves for doing so. Millions of them are out there,, and they are not going to stop. These people are the new Crusaders and they have the same vision of what they think their god wants…

Guilt, shame or hell?

The President made the case for the final end to the government of Iraq. I supported this but in the pit of my stomach, I knew what was in store and I knew the risks. I also knew that my sons and even my daughter would be the ones who would have to answer this call and that they would be damned for doing so! My generation failed my children and left them to do what needed to be done. The fact that the world fought so hard to protect the people who are in the business of spreading death and are proud and happy to do so made me ill and still does to this day. Where is the common sense? Where is the desire to free the oppressed? All of these are old fashioned and some could mention archaic to describe the desire to kill the evil humans to save those who may have a chance to turn out to love life and their children’s lives and futures over some theory of a benevolent loving god. When these people who slaughter innocent men women and children mention utter the word god, does anyone actually feel Gods love?

Guilt, shame or hell?

I was proud of my son. He had volunteered to go into the Infantry when he could have done anything else that he wanted. He WANTED to go to the infantry because that is where ultimately the buck stops. He left for Ft. Benning as I had, humped the same trails, sweat puddles on the same ground as I and my brothers had so many years ago. He smelled the same smells, learned the same lessons and turned blue with some of the bravest men that we will ever have the honor of producing. I turned my son blue and welcomed him into the fraternity that so many have before us joined through blood, sweat and learning to trust men like us. The shame for me that unlike me in my time, these fine young men knew where they were headed and stood tall in the glare of all the negatives that the pop culture could deal out. These were not draftees.. these young men joined for all of the old fashioned reasons that men have since men started to walk upright. There was evil and they were needed!

Guilt, shame or hell?

I watched my son grow into a real soldier. He was well respected by his own peers and by his leaders and he was a real apprentice at the craft of warfare. He was as ready as he would ever be. I spent the weekend with him before he shipped out, we talked and nervously readied ourselves for the next phase. I dropped my son off at his barracks and hugged the hell out of him.. even though he pretended that he didn’t want to. I want to hug him longer and stay there for a few more minutes…

Guilt, shame or hell?

The months of combat made my son even better at what he had gone off to do. He and his brothers fought the good fight and never lost sight of each other. We talked about things he did. I of course shamefully had only training and knowledge from history to offer to my son. He was talking to me about things and something just needed to hear from us. He had to know that home was still here and that we were ok. We talked about IED’s and my son was honestly afraid of them. I told him that he had all the right in the world to fear something like that. I related them to Flak in the Air war in WW2. Flak was something that was feared and hated by the airmen because there was no way to fight it, it was there and it could take your life instantly.

On February 24 of 2008. this horror became a reality. Less than 48 hours after having this discussion with my son, his biggest fear over there took his life. Did I minimize it too much? Did I not hear my son well enough? I will never know. My son has not visited me in dreams as some of my dead friends have done and still do. Shamefully I do not dream of him, he is just as gone in my dreams as he is in real life. I miss him so. I just hope that he does know how much.

Guilt, shame or hell?

The gold star represents many things to those on the outside looking in and probably depending on what stage of the process we happen to living in at that moment, many more to us. There are a lot of levels of hells in numerous theologies and philosophies. The Buddhist sect that I studied taught that there are a lot of levels of hell and there is only one person who can take you there and or get you out. That person is you. I can tell you from personal experiences that this is very true or maybe just true to me. I have been in and out of these hells my whole life and more often since losing my son. To a father an old infantryman and a man there are separate hells and shames for each.

Guilt, shame or hell?

My children have been taught that they are indeed responsible for their actions and there is no one who can be blamed for their actions good and or bad. I have strived since they were small to teach them about the world and the history of mankind. Myself the “kind” really doesn’t fit the human animal in anyway. I have been a follower of histories of man, good men, bad men all men. I have read and encouraged my kids to learn history from all points of view. To help people who are being oppressed and to hate the human animals who seem to love to hurt people. This is one of my shames and one of the hell’s.

Guilt, shame or hell?

I joined the military because of my desire to be ready and trained in the coming age of the latest version of the religious armies. They were on the march before I was of age, but I understood what these humans could be capable of. There have been religious armies of humans on this planet before. I was aware of this and made my children aware of this. Be sure that no man is never more happy to kill when he feels that he does so with the blessings of his chosen god. I trained and I trained hard, It never happened on my watch

Guilt, shame or hell?

I never had to put this training and desire to stop the religious animals to the test, it would have to be left to our children and our children’s children. The threats where there, the warning given, the unanswered alarm and the deaths of many humans for simply daring to be in the wrong place or simple be labeled by these religious armies as the “enemy” to their god. The world was and still is willing to accept the death of many innocent people when it is they who are not forced to live in the crosshairs. Those in power appeased and the ignorant masses slept and played and went on like there were no cares in the world.

Guilt, shame or hell?

The attacks of 9/11 made the world wake up, some people in the world decided that they could accept this as long as it meant that they were not going to be inconvenienced or have to maybe face the awful truth that there were literally millions of humans who were willing to do the same exact thing to other people who have done nothing but refused to accept their version of their god or have supported others who have survived in spite of their never ending desire to kill them off. Not only would these people kill you, they would be hailed as gods themselves for doing so. Millions of them are out there,, and they are not going to stop. These people are the new Crusaders and they have the same vision of what they think their god wants…

Guilt, shame or hell?

The President made the case for the final end to the government of Iraq. I supported this but in the pit of my stomach, I knew what was in store and I knew the risks. I also knew that my sons and even my daughter would be the ones who would have to answer this call and that they would be damned for doing so! My generation failed my children and left them to do what needed to be done. The fact that the world fought so hard to protect the people who are in the business of spreading death and are proud and happy to do so made me ill and still does to this day. Where is the common sense? Where is the desire to free the oppressed? All of these are old fashioned and some could mention archaic to describe the desire to kill the evil humans to save those who may have a chance to turn out to love life and their children’s lives and futures over some theory of a benevolent loving god. When these people who slaughter innocent men women and children mention utter the word god, does anyone actually feel Gods love?

Guilt, shame or hell?

I was proud of my son. He had volunteered to go into the Infantry when he could have done anything else that he wanted. He WANTED to go to the infantry because that is where ultimately the buck stops. He left for Ft. Benning as I had, humped the same trails, sweat puddles on the same ground as I and my brothers had so many years ago. He smelled the same smells, learned the same lessons and turned blue with some of the bravest men that we will ever have the honor of producing. I turned my son blue and welcomed him into the fraternity that so many have before us joined through blood, sweat and learning to trust men like us. The shame for me that unlike me in my time, these fine young men knew where they were headed and stood tall in the glare of all the negatives that the pop culture could deal out. These were not draftees.. these young men joined for all of the old fashioned reasons that men have since men started to walk upright. There was evil and they were needed!

Guilt, shame or hell?

I watched my son grow into a real soldier. He was well respected by his own peers and by his leaders and he was a real apprentice at the craft of warfare. He was as ready as he would ever be. I spent the weekend with him before he shipped out, we talked and nervously readied ourselves for the next phase. I dropped my son off at his barracks and hugged the hell out of him.. even though he pretended that he didn’t want to. I want to hug him longer and stay there for a few more minutes…

Guilt, shame or hell?
The months of combat made my son even better at what he had gone off to do. He and his brothers fought the good fight and never lost sight of each other. We talked about things he did. I of course shamefully had only training and knowledge from history to offer to my son. He was talking to me about things and something just needed to hear from us. He had to know that home was still here and that we were ok. We talked about IED’s and my son was honestly afraid of them. I told him that he had all the right in the world to fear something like that. I related them to Flak in the Air war in WW2. Flak was something that was feared and hated by the airmen because there was no way to fight it, it was there and it could take your life instantly.

On February 24 of 2008. this horror became a reality. Less than 48 hours after having this discussion with my son, his biggest fear over there took his life. Did I minimize it too much? Did I not hear my son well enough? I will never know. My son has not visited me in dreams as some of my dead friends have done and still do. Shamefully I do not dream of him, he is just as gone in my dreams as he is in real life. I miss him so. I just hope that he does know how much.

I am in hell, more than I am ever in out these days and it probably won’t improve much any time soon.

This is a fact that has been a bane to humanity forever and will probably be what ends the species. I made promises to Micheal as he looked into me. I will forever feel that I betrayed him in some way. The promises I made to him, I had no business making.  In a few hours, I got to feel again the exact moment, that those promises became a lie.

-Mr. Steven Phillips.

Father of our Fallen. Eternal respect, forever, and a day.

SPQR.

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eric

eric

Eric graduated with honors in 2004 from the The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA. He was then commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps the same year, completed multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Counterintelligence / Human Source Intelligence Officer and later as a Case Officer and Active Duty Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Eric honorably discharged as a Captain after 8 years’ service in 2012.

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