December 7, 2011

Although Tommy Phillips ’09 had just entered high school when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, they had a profound impact on his future.

Tommy Phillips '09 and sister Molly Phillips '07 at SMU for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl last December.

“For the first time in my life, it was apparent that it was my generation’s time to serve and defend our nation,” Phillips says.

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in political science from SMU, he decided to pay his “debt of gratitude” to his country through military service. Phillips entered the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. He was commissioned as an Ensign in November 2010.

Last December Ensign Phillips proudly sported “dress blues” during a visit to the Hilltop with his family – including sister Molly ’07, who majored in journalism at SMU and now resides in New York City. They attended the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl played in SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

Since January he has been deployed with the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Middle East where his ship was part of the Carl Vinson Strike Group; the Carl Vinson was the ship Osama Bin Laden’s body was carried to after his assassination. Ensign Phillips also served in Iraq while on deployment.

The 5th Fleet’s “area of responsibility encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. This expanse, comprised of 20 countries, includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen,” according to the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command website.

Ensign Phillips returned from his deployment in September and was excited to return to his homeport of San Diego. “I’m really looking forward to seeing my family, my two great Labs, my bed – and having stable Internet service and cable TV,” he said. “I also intend to start taking surfing lessons.”

Service in the U.S. Navy has been gratifying on many levels, Phillips says. “I’ve had the opportunity to see and explore some extraordinary parts of the world. We’ve done some great work, so it has also been a very exciting and rewarding time for me.

“I think President Kennedy pretty much summed up my view when he stated: ‘I can imagine a no more rewarding career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: I served in the United States Navy.’”