Interview with a Veteran- Robbie Phillips
Name: Robbie Phillips
Q: At what age did you enlist in the military?
A: I was 20 when I joined
Q: What made you choose to enlist in the military?
A: I decided I needed a change and wanted to leave the situation I was in. I was going nowhere at the time. Joining made it so I could get away and make something of myself.
Q: What was your branch of service, rank and MOS?
A: I was in the United States Marine Corps, Sgt-E-5, Military Police
Q: Where did you serve?
A: my first duty station was MCAS New River, Jacksonville NC. This unit was a non-deployable one so after about 2 years I volunteered to switch units. I then served with MP Support Company, II MHG, Camp Lejeune NC. I deployed to Iraq with this unit, after deployment I spent 6 months in Twenty-Nine Palms, CA.
Q: Tell me about your time at bootcamp: What was your first day like? What was the funniest or most memorable thing to happen during basic training?
A: When I arrived at Parris Island for bootcamp it was in the middle of the night. We arrived on a bus in the dark. When the bus stopped Drill Instructors stepped on the bus and started yelling. The first few days were busy, processing in and getting all our gear. It was fast moving and a little chaotic but just the start to the next 12 weeks. One of the funniest things I can remember is when we were all standing on line in front of our footlockers our Drill Instructor went down the line and saw a wet spot on the floor around another recruit. The Drill Instructor started yelling and asking if it was piss! It took a second but the recruit ended up admitting to the fact he pissed himself.
Q: What was the worst MRE meal you had to eat and what was the best?
A: Wow, MRE’s. I started off thinking they were cool, but after eating them so much I grew to dislike many of them. I think the Rib one was one of my favorite, but anytime you could get your hand on a milkshake mix you were set.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out you were being deployed?
A: For me it wasn’t a surprise as I volunteered to switch units so I could deploy. When the time came I was sad and nervous, due to my daughter being born 6 months prior to my leaving.
Q: Tell me about your first experience landing overseas and getting to your base. Was it a total culture shock for you? Were the civilians friendly or hostile towards your unit?
A: When I first landed it was in Kuwait. It was in the middle of the night and I remember we all got on busses to take us to an Army base (Camp Virginia) I think it was. We were told to keep the curtains closed. I had a little culture shock at the time, not knowing what was going on. Processing from Kuwait to Iraq was an interesting time.
Q: What were the living conditions like?
A: Waiting for us to get into Iraq we stayed in huts and slept on cots. Once I got into Iraq we again were all staying inside big huts and staying on cots. There were no lights and dirt everywhere. Eventually I was moved from the hut to an old bunker underground, but it looked like a pyramid above ground. The doors were giant blast doors, there was no water, or electricity and the again the floor was dirt. There was also a fresh air pump. We would end up getting engineers to hook up a generator so we could set up lights.
Q: Did you ever get homesick? And what did you miss most about home and the United States?
A: Honestly, I got homesick often. It was a tough time, having my young family back home and knowing that my wife (who was also active duty Marine) could be deployed soon to made things worse. I tried calling and writing home often and really looked forward to receiving mail. Lucky for me I ran into a couple of my cousins who are Marines too which made it a nice change of pace.
Q: What did you do to keep yourself entertained?
A: I watch a lot of movies! Spent time with friends I had there and also spent two hours a day in the gym.
Q: What food did you crave the most?
A: I craved a good pizza!
Q: On average, how much sleep did you get each night?
A: I think at first it was just a few hours, but after a while it increased to I think around 4-5 hours.
Q: What was/were your primary weapon(s) you carried with you?
A: My primary weapon was the AR-15, and I also carried a Beretta M9.
Q: How much weight did you carry including weapons and all of your protective gear?
A: I think full load would’ve been around 70lbs, give or take some.
Q: Tell me about someone from your unit who helped or positively impacted you during your time overseas.
A: During my time overseas, I had one main friend who helped me to get passed a lot of the stress and even the homesickness. We worked out together and would complete assigned tasks too. It wasn’t his first deployment so he kind of took me under his wing.
Q: Do you keep in contact with anyone you were stationed with?
A: I keep in loose contact with many people I was stationed with. Many through Facebook and a few through texting. It is a tough time, when you get off active duty you tend to go back home or move away, it isn’t easy to stay in contact. However, when you do contact each other, even after a long time, its like you were always talking. It’s nice to know you don’t really lose a friends because of the bond you grow serving together.
Q: What was it like transitioning from military life to civilian life once you came back to the US? What was your biggest obstacle you faced?
A: This is an ongoing transition. It is tough to just “shut off” the training and alertness you have while not only deployed but on active duty. This is something many “civilians” have trouble understanding.
Q: How has your time spent in the Military affected your life? Did you gain skills and training that have helped benefit you in the business world?
A: I have gained many skills from my time on active duty. They have both helped and hurt me along the way. It goes back to the intensity you have and passion and drive. Sometimes employers and even coworkers don’t understand so they put up walls. They tend to dislike it.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just entering the Military?
A: The biggest advice I give to anyone thinking about joining would be to make sure you know what and why you are joining. I tell them to find a job they want to do, then find the right branch for them. Not everyone will be a fit for every branch. The military is going to get theirs out of you so you need to prepare yourself for life after. Get a skill that will set you above “civilian peers.” Do a lot of research, talk to veterans, don’t get brainwashed by recruiters.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just getting out of the Military?
A: I would say to really think about it. Make sure you know what your plan is prior to leaving. For me, I would’ve stayed in, maybe switched branches. It’s a whole different world once you leave, it’s tough.
Q: What does the American flag mean to you?
A: Opportunity, Freedom, Respect. When I look at the flag it means more than words. It is life, memories, passion. It’s hard to describe. You serve with great people and experience so much defending the flag and the country.
Q: Experience of having your spouse in the military?
A: We met on active duty. My wife had been in for around 4 years before I met her. It was a challenge being dual active duty and then adding a family to the mix. Being a part of two different units makes it difficult too. Someone has to be able to pick up the kids from daycare or get kids to appointments, not every unit is understanding of the needs of parents either. When deployments came around that was an even harder reality, that we could both be sent away from our family and each other. But if you take those stressors away, it was a cool experience having my wife be a Marine also. I like to give her the attention on Veterans Day and other times when people assume I’m the only Veteran in the family.
Q:Any extra thoughts?
A: I recently spent time with a bunch of Veterans and got to hear how they appreciate the simple “Thank you.” It isn’t easy to make the choice to leave the comfort of your life and journey into something so unknown. It isn’t for everyone that is for sure. Injuries last a lifetime, memories never fade. Not every Veteran is a Combat Veteran, but all have served where and when they were told. Being in the military will change you forever.