NIU Police Chief Phillips: Thank you, veterans

NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips
NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips

Northern Illinois University Police Chief Tom Phillips, a veteran of the U.S. Army, spoke at the 2014 Veterans Day ceremony. Listed below is a transcript of his speech to approximately 100 people gathered at the East Lagoon. 

THANK YOU

First, and foremost, thank you to the leadership of the NIU Veterans Association for giving me the greatest honor to stand before you today. I am humbled to be given this opportunity to speak about Veteran’s and what being a solider has meant to me. I’d like to thank Representative Stephanie A. Kifowit, for your leadership in government and for supporting veteran’s causes in our community and in Springfield. Thank you President Doug Baker, for allowing us to honor veterans on campus today and for choosing an Army veteran to lead the University Police Department and giving me a continued mission in service to others. But most of all, thank you to all the veterans that have given a piece of themselves in service to the United States of America.

PERSONAL HISTORY

I’d like to share with you an oral tradition that all veterans know. When veterans talk to each other, there is always a recounting of military service. Regardless of service, this exchange typically follows the same pattern. What branch did you serve? Where were you stationed? How long were you in? More often than not there is some sort of connection.

I joined the U.S. Army in a strip mall on the south side of Flint, Michigan. My first day of active duty was April 7th, 1987. When I joined, I wanted to learn a trade so I asked to become a combat engineer. However, as many have learned, those magical recruiters managed to get you to go a different way. My recruiter narrowed it down to 2 jobs. An Infantryman with Pathfinder training or a Military Policeman. As I considered my options, I had visions of being a pathfinder, alone in the middle of the night, lost on a hilltop in the jungle. Although at the time, I had no desire to be an MP, after watching a short video of a military policeman cruising around the Army base in a squad car the decision was made. Off to MP school at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Little did I know that five months later, I’d be stationed in the 534th Military Police Company in the Republic of Panama. I found myself alone in the middle of the night, lost on a hilltop in the jungle. I served two years in Panama during the most tense of times. I survived some dangerous situations in the jungle and on the streets of Panama City during a time when Panamanian General Manuel Noriega was indicted by the U.S. Needless to say it was tense.

Afterwards, I served two years as an MP investigator and then as a squad leader in the 7th Infantry Division MP Company, Fort Ord, California. My eldest son was born in an Army hospital, and I kept marching forward.

I reenlisted one more time and ended up in the Caribbean, again as a MP Investigator at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. I stayed for four years, and then decided to become a civilian.

The Army ended my military service in 1995, but I never lost the feeling of what it meant to be a soldier. I will be a soldier by heart until my heart beats no more.

VETERANS DAY HISTORY

Veterans Day wasn’t always known by that name.

World War I, also known as “The Great War,” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. However, fighting ceased 7 months earlier when an Armistice, or cease fire, between the allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

This day was recognized as Armistice Day. A generation later, in June 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of ALL wars. Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation”.

Regardless of the name, Veterans Day is a time-honored tradition to recognize those that have served this country. A time to remember those you have answered a calling to duty. As a special request I ask that today we remember not only our servicemen and women; we remember the countless police officers, firefighters, paramedics, dispatchers, and other first responders that continue to keep our families safe every day. They are the Veterans of our communities, fighting the war to keep us safe in our homes and safe on our streets.

WHAT IS VETERANS DAY?

Many sometimes confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. Many do not know the difference between the two days. Not to be confused, Memorial Day is a day to honor the fallen, a time to honor the men and women Warriors that have paid the ultimate price died for our freedom. Although we will always honor and never forget the fallen, TODAY WE DO NOT MOURN. TODAY WE HONOR THE LIVING. We say thank you to the 22 million military United States Veterans living all over the world.

I’m not usually one to offer quotes, and I have learned through my life in service as a soldier and police officer that it’s best to leave politics to others. However, I’d like to make an exception and offer an inspirational statement from an outstanding speech given by President Ronald Reagan on Armed Forces Day, May 15th, 1982. In that speech, President Reagan was paying tribute to American servicemen and women. And here is a snippet of what he said:

“In referencing the book “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” he writes of an officer waiting through the night for the return of planes to a carrier as dawn is coming on. And he asks, “Where do we find such men?” Well, we find them where we’ve always found them. They are the product of the freest society man has ever known. They make a commitment to the military—make it freely, because the birthright we share as Americans is worth defending. God bless America.”

That is truly a powerful statement and brings to my mind the countless Veterans and all their stories.

  • Each and every one of you a part of the diaspora of American heroes.
  • Each and every one of you has a story. And a countless number of stories may have never been told.
  • Its ok, I know not all stories end in a blaze of glory. Many are tragic; many are never told.

How does society tell these stories? Oftentimes, they are told in movies about war. In the movies, the good guys almost always win. The soldier goes home. And if he or she doesn’t they are honored with a Warriors funeral. However, that is the movies.

As part of my thank you today, I’d like to talk about something we don’t see in the movies. We hear about it in the news frequently and the story always center on the stereotypical ex-soldier that is mentally unstable and dangerous to themselves and others. I want to highlight an important issue regarding these reports. And most of all I want to ask for your help.  A veteran with mental illness is the same as any other citizen with mental illness. Not everyone with mental illness is violent, and not everyone is self-destructive. However, there are a lot of veterans that do need help.

Please allow me to share some statistics with you to help me explain what I mean. The US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that:

  • There are 22 million military veterans living all over the world.
  • 17 million of them are wartime veterans. (8 out of 10 or 77%)

VETERANS LIVING WITH SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS

Too often mental illness goes undiagnosed and untreated. Too often this can lead to disaster that destroy families and harm communities. Oftentimes, these heroes suffer in silence, a leftover from their rigorous training that teaches them to carry on regardless of the troubles they are facing. They struggle from mental disorders that hurt their chances to find or keep a steady job. Likewise, many Veterans take advantage of the educational benefits they’ve earned during their service after the leave the military. I am a living example of such a case. However, some Veterans find they can’t focus enough to stay in school and enjoy the benefits they so deservingly have earned. A Veteran suffering from mental illness does not live on an island. The illnesses have a “collateral damage” on the families, the spouses, the children, the communities all around us.

More startling statistics:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the Veterans Health Administration has some startling numbers on mental illness for Veterans:  Remember, there are 22 million veterans.

  • About 1 in 50 of them (450,000) have a diagnosed service-connected mental Illness. That means the illness is directly connected to their experiences as a military member.
  • In 2002, 1 in 31 Veterans (700,000) received mental health services from V.A.

HOW WE SAY THANK YOU

So how do we say thank you? If you know a veteran, say thanks. It really does mean something to them. But I ask that you also consider another way to show your gratitude. I ask all of you to find a way to help heal the minds and souls of the veterans I just spoke about.  You may ask, “how I do that Chief? How can I help?” There are many ways. Whether its with a donation or through volunteerism, we can all make a difference. Locally, you can contact The DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has a directory of non-profit veteran organizations that accept donations and many offer volunteer opportunities. The directory has hundreds of organizations that want to help and need you. You can find the directory at va.gov. Regardless of how you chose to help, the important message is to try and give back something to the men and women that have given so much to defend our way of life.

In closing, thank all of you for joining me.  And thank you, veterans, for leading the way. God Bless America and Go Huskies!

PHOTO GALLERY: NIU VETERANS DAY CEREMONY

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