FORT MCCOY, Wis. –
Pfc. Trevor Phillips has been a U.S. Army Reserve Soldier for nearly two years now.
Approaching that anniversary, orders to report to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin to participate in Warrior Exercise 86-21-02 have led to him sitting in the middle of a clump of tall grass, scanning the treeline to detect any opposing force role-player movement, reflecting on why he joined, and his experience thus far.
Phillips has a lineage of service to the nation. His grandfather served both in the U.S. Navy, aboard the USS Boxer, and in the U.S. Army in the 211th Military Police Battalion. He served 31 years, and participated in American efforts in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. His uncle served for six years in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His father, however, was barred from service for medical reasons.
“I made a promise to my father that I’d serve 20 years,” said Phillips, a horizontal construction engineer with the 702nd Engineer Battalion. “He wanted to join and help his country in Vietnam, but there was something wrong with his lungs. So I told him I would take his place, and here I am.”
It may have been a foregone conclusion that Phillips would join the military, but the decision to join the U.S. Army Reserve specifically was not random. He wasn’t qualified for service in any of his desired military occupational specialties in the U.S. Air Force because of his red/green colorblindness, and regardless of his grandfather’s service, he had next to no interest in naval service.
The Army was the obvious choice. The decision to join the Reserve, however, was a more difficult one.
“I really wanted to serve on active duty,” Phillips said. “I had a lot of long conversations with my father about how I could best serve my country and my family. We made the decision as a family that the [Reserve] is the best of both worlds.”
He acknowledges that there are many sacrifices to be made as a Reserve Soldier. In fact, Phillips gave up something that many 18-year-olds could only dream of: a full-ride sports scholarship to a Division I university.
“I wrestled for as long as I can remember,” Phillips said. “I did really well in high school. Well enough for them to offer me a scholarship to Appalachian State [University] over in Boone, [North Carolina]. But it was more important to me to go to basic training than to take that scholarship. I mean, if I wasn’t going into the military, it would have been a dream come true. But I had a higher purpose.”
But once Phillips arrived at basic training, there were yet more sacrifices to be made. He arrived at basic training in January 2020. Due to new COVID-19 restrictions on all DoD installations, Phillips’ training experience was heavily modified.
“I expected so much more,” he said. “We couldn’t train physically as much. We would do distanced ruck marches and then have to be bussed back because we couldn’t stay close to other people.”
Phillips said that while he still felt prepared to attend advanced individual training, and join his unit, there was quite a bit he was still unsure about.
“When it came to general Army knowledge, and what was expected of me, I felt fine, like I knew everything I needed,” he said. “But there were things like combatives, pugils, and drills and troop movements that I hadn’t been exposed to as much as I wanted.”
However, he also says his unit has done a great job of getting him up to speed and comfortable with the Army knowledge and experiences he lacked during his initial training. With opportunities and mentors available at battle assemblies, annual training at Fort Campbell in 2020, as well as this year’s WAREX.
“This year’s [annual training] at [WAREX 86-21-02] is really helping me get in the Army groove, so to speak,” Phillips said. “We’ve done a bunch of training that I’ve never really seen before, so that’s been really great. We’ve done a ton of convoy stuff so far, and I never thought that would be something I would learn.”
Those skills will be put to use soon, as the 702nd is slated to mobilize in late 2021.
“I’m excited about this deployment,” he said. “It’ll be hard to be away from family, but this is the whole reason I joined.”
With just over four years left on his initial Reserve contract, Phillips is keeping his eyes on the future. He still has his sights set on active-duty service with the U.S. Army, but wants to find the right balance with his family. Three generations of his family have given him stories and advice that make him confident he can be a better Soldier.