TORRINGTON – Joseph R. Phillips wanted to be part of something bigger, joining the Army National Guard while still a student at Torrington High School.
Phillips, the son of a Navy veteran, was the guest speaker Monday for the annual Veteran’s Day program at Eastern Wyoming College. He could have gone to college on scholarships when he graduates from THS this year, he told the crowd of students, community members and veterans in the Fine Arts Auditorium on campus. But he wanted something more.
“I had scholarships that could have paid for my entire college career,” he said. “But I decided I wanted to serve, instead of just going through college without anything else.”
One thing he saw when he entered his military training was the diversity of reason people joined, he said.
“Some wanted to take care of their families, some wanted to have a better life than they had growing up,” Phillips said. “I joined because I wanted to serve, like my father did.”
Phillips knew he wanted a military career during his sophomore year in high school. He initially wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Navy. But recruiters visiting Torrington High School caused him to rethink his initial plans.
“The Air Force recruiter stopped by and I started thinking about going Air Force Special Forces,” Phillips said. “I started looking at other branches, instead of just the Navy, like my father.”
He eventually settled on the Guard, beginning his training at Fort Jackson, near Columbia, S.C. Phillips exceled at the testing and mental aspects, he said, but had difficulty with the physical demands of Army basic training.
“It was easy, until I got to the fitness parts,” he said. “I could follow all the orders, I could do everything with my mind. I even exceled at marksmanship. But I couldn’t do the fitness. It really hit me hard.
“But I did it,” Phillips said. “I passed and got to stand next to my entire platoon at graduation.”
It was during his graduation ceremony the unusual happened. Usually characterized as hard-bitten, his senior drill instructor approached Phillips and gave him the words that will carry him forward through his military career.
“He whispered in my ear, he told me, ‘Phillips, I’m glad you made it through,’” the THS senior recalled. “‘You were my favorite recruit. You do everything, and you did it right.’
“‘I’m glad that you are here with me, that I can have my hand on your back and know, out of my last cycle, you were in it and you passed.’”
Though new to the military life, Phillips already has plans for his future. Next year, he will head to Fort Sill, Okla., to complete his training and join others in the long line of military service, he said.
“I have high hopes it will be fun and I’ll be able to pass through exceptionally,” Phillips said.