Growing up in Wyoming’s Indian country wasn’t always pleasant for Joshua Phillips, but he made the best of it, and as soon as he could, turned his attention to making his life better as a member of the Wyoming Army National Guard, a place he’s called home since 1996.
Living with his grandparents from the time he was a high school freshman in Lander, the Cherokee native started thinking about the military and was drawn to the order and discipline it represented. He kept busy with sports and working various jobs, but they were turbulent times. As soon as he was 17, he signed on the dotted line to become an Army private.
“My father was never in my life and my mom was kind of in and out. She was an alcoholic, and I didn’t want any part of that scene,” he said of life before moving in with his grandparents. “Just because you grow up in a bad situation doesn’t mean it has to define you. You have a choice on what you want to become.”
While he initially intended to join the active duty Army, after talking to a National Guard recruiter his choice became the Wyoming Army Guard and the field artillery unit in Lander provided a great getaway.
“My grandparents had to sign off for me, but I drilled with the unit until graduation, and as soon as I stepped off the stage, I shipped out. I couldn’t do everything with them because I hadn’t been to training yet, but it was great, and fun,” Phillips said of the year he spent with A Battery, 1st Battalion, 49th Field Artillery prior to initial entry training. He had learned enough drilling with the unit to fast track through his basic artillery training and come home as an E2 private in 1997.
After about six years as a traditional one weekend a month, two weeks a year guardsman, Phillips became an active duty guard member. He trained in the logistics field and has been doing that ever since. Currently he serves as the supply noncommissioned officer in charge for the 115th Field Artillery Brigade, headquartered in Cheyenne.
He was the supply sergeant for Wyoming’s field artillery battalion in 2006 when it got called for a deployment to Iraq.
“We were all over the place there. We had like five locations and no real set routine, but we did convoy operations and supply and supply for the Iraqi police,” he said of his first deployment. His second year in the desert, as part of the 2009-2010 brigade deployment, saw him in a similar supply role.
In the military and in general, he has met and overcome adversity, even racism, but he credits his grandparents and the “great” senior enlisted leaders in the Wyoming Guard for his resiliency, work ethic and courage.
“It’s not easy getting through everything you have to go through to get to this rank,” he said. “There have been tough times, at schools or deployment, where I thought about quitting, and some sergeant major like Pafford or Butts or Ehde would say, ‘It sucks right now, but you’ll get through it.’ and they’re right. My grandparents instilled that moral strength and work ethic too, and the Army Values—personal courage—it says it right there,” Phillips explained.
“I’ve had a few run-ins with racists, nothing big. Like down south for Army training, but again, I don’t let that define me. If I say something back, I think that makes me just as bad. I figure anyone that’s owed anything is long dead. We all have equal opportunities now and it’s up to us to make good choices.”
If he has his choice, he said he will be a sergeant major before he retires from the guard. The father of three said his children haven’t shown great interest in joining the military, but are grateful for the lifestyle and opportunity it provides their family. His oldest son is a college graduate, and his middle daughter is midway through college. The youngest is a high school sophomore.
“I used my Post 911 G.I. Bill for their college,” Phillips said. “They know it and they love it.”
He advises anyone thinking about joining the Wyoming Army National Guard to take it seriously and to work hard.
“Don’t join unless you’re willing to give it 100 percent of what you have to offer,” he advised. “This is a great organization and if you give it 100 percent it will give you 100 percent. It’s been proven over and over. Even my wife knows from when she worked with family support.”
Some of the soldiers that work with him and have deployed with him, said he isn’t just talking about doing good work.
“He practices what he preaches,” said Maj. Robert LeJeune, who is currently the officer in charge at the brigade and was the executive officer with C Battery during the 09-10 deployment. “I dealt with him quite a bit over there. He is a consummate professional, and that can’t be overstated. I threw him quite a few curveballs and he always comes through. He’s got an outstanding attitude, especially when things get difficult. He always holds it together. And now, working with him again, I see his development as a professional logistician. He is always on an upward trajectory. He’s always learning more to give more.”
That’s an impression Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Hauf, the brigade’s assistant operations NCO shares.
“His contribution to this brigade is untouched. He has a passion, a fire in his belly,” Hauf explained. “Everything he does is about the team. He never does anything for himself. The brigade’s come a long way since he’s came on board. We have fun and the morale is high with him around.”