Capt. Jophiel Philips: A Bronze Star recipient shares story

Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate, reacts to Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, Commander Air Force Special Operations Command, as he gives opening comments during a Bronze Star presentation ceremony Jan. 12, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Philips was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism during an insurgent attack at Camp Integrity, Afghanistan in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)

Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate, reacts to Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, Commander Air Force Special Operations Command, as he gives opening comments during a Bronze Star presentation ceremony Jan. 12, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Philips was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism during an insurgent attack at Camp Integrity, Afghanistan in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)

Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, Commander Air Force Special Operations Command, pins a Bronze Star on Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate, during a medal presentation ceremony Jan. 12, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Philips assisted in the defending Camp Integrity, Afghanistan during an insurgent attack in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)

Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, Commander Air Force Special Operations Command, pins a Bronze Star on Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate, during a medal presentation ceremony Jan. 12, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Philips assisted in the defending Camp Integrity, Afghanistan during an insurgent attack in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)

Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate, greets the attendees of his Bronze Star presentation ceremony Jan. 12, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Philips was in close proximity to a vehicle-borne blast and despite being wounded, aided his fellow service members in repelling an insurgent attack on Camp Integrity, Afghanistan during a deployment in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)

Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate, greets the attendees of his Bronze Star presentation ceremony Jan. 12, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Philips was in close proximity to a vehicle-borne blast and despite being wounded, aided his fellow service members in repelling an insurgent attack on Camp Integrity, Afghanistan during a deployment in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, Commander Air Force Special Operations Command, presented a Bronze Star Medal to a 27th Special Operations Wing Judge Advocate here Jan. 12.

Capt. Jophiel Philips, 27th SOW/JA, deployed to the Special Operations Joint Task Force Afghanistan legal office at Camp Integrity, Afghanistan April 19 to Aug. 20 last year. Near the end of his tour, he witnessed sacrifice and bravery as his brothers in arms repelled an insurgent attack and ultimately saved his life.

Philips recounted his experiences in the Nov. 2015 issue of the Operational Law Quarterly.

“On Aug. 7 at 1015 hours, I was near the entry control point at Camp Integrity when five insurgents breached the gate by detonating a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, immediately killing seven security personnel and sending me flying through the air,” Philips stated. “Subsequently, four insurgents entered our camp.”

Philips was left 15 yards from the blast site with enemies approaching.

“I was the closest person to the insurgents,” Philips said. “[Army] 1st Sgt. Peter Andrew McKenna, Jr., a green beret, sprinted toward me, firing on the insurgents, stopping them from advancing and detonating their suicide vests. After Sgt. McKenna was hit a second time, [Army] Master Sgt. George Vera stepped up to head-off the insurgents and was shot himself.”

In the Bronze Star narrative, it details Philips’ actions immediately following the blast and during the firefight.

“Capt. Philips was in close proximity to the breach point and thrown a significant distance by the blast,” the narrative states. “Despite the fact that he was unarmed and significantly injured, Capt. Philips selflessly and without regard for his own safety shielded another service member from harm and guided him to safety immediately following the blast and during a follow-on attack by insurgents wearing suicide vests who breaded the perimeter and engaged in a protracted firefight with camp personnel.”

Philips, injured and in significant pain, assisted with security for approximately two hours until he was medically evacuated from the camp. He later detailed the flight out of the camp and bravery of those aboard.

“During the medical evacuation, insurgents from outside our camp shot at our open helicopter,” Philips wrote. “The pilots guided the bird through the bullets as the medics and nurses sat straight up to work on us.”

McKenna sacrificed his life protecting his fellow service members during the insurgent attack and Vera was severely wounded, but is alive today. The events of that day changed Philips’ outlook encouraging him to live and serve in a way that brings honor to the sacrifices of both McKenna and Vera.

“To me, the best way to honor Master Sgt. Vera and 1st Sgt. McKenna is to do my best and share their examples of valor to all service members, ensuring that their sacrifices were not in vain,” Philips stated. “I would not be here today if it were not for them.”