Soldiers, Islanders And A Sense Of Community
Author: Paul deVere
They were here for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. They were here for the Heritage of Golf as parking lot guards, saving the Heritage Classic Foundation serious money. They were also over there—Iraq, Afghanistan—the soldiers of Ft. Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. They were here to help the island celebrate because the island had celebrated them with Operation R & R.
“It [Operation R&R] represents Americans across this country who decided to do something to help focus the widespread support for our troops. They want to bring to bear their own special talents, special abilities, their own resources and focus that support. So he has brought together Operation R and R,” said Brigadier General Jeffery Phillips. The “he” Phillips referred to is Grant Evans, founder of Operation R&R, a non-profit organization that has, since 2008, provided free island vacations to over 400 soldiers and their families. All the soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.
Phillips, who was on the island for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, is the Deputy Commanding General and Rear and Senior Commander at Ft. Stewart, home of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Translated: he’s the boss at Ft. Stewart, the largest military installation east of the Mississippi, while the 3rd Infantry is deployed in northern Iraq. Phillips took over last October.
Operation R & R has grown from offering a few soldiers’ families a little island break to something of a major operation. Over 300 villa and home owners now participate, mostly through nine short term rental management companies. Sixty area restaurants offer free or highly discounted meals. About 35 local businesses, from golf courses to spas, provide free or discounted services. Then there are the 125 greeters who meet the families and make sure their stay on the island is everything a Hilton Head Island vacation should be.
At the March parade, Phillips was somewhat taken aback by the welcome his soldiers received. It brought back memories for him. “It’s that community you experience in a parade—a communication among people. I saw it in Washington and I saw it here today on Hilton Head,” Phillips said.
His reference to Washington was the 2000 inaugural parade. At that time, he was a member of the Army Reserves, had worked on the George W. Bush campaign and became part of the new administration’s staff. “One of my first jobs was to organize all the horses in the parade, including the manure pick up. That was a lesson in humility. But it went well. It was a cold, miserable day. High school bands waiting, the kids were shivering. But then it began,” Phillips recalled—and the shivers of cold turned to shivers of excitement, he said, explaining that the relationship between the kids in the band and the crowd of well-wishers was very similar to what his troops felt with islanders: a sense of community.
Phillips said that the same sense of community was there when he had the opportunity, two weeks before, to welcome President Obama at Hunter Army Airfield. Political party lines didn’t matter when the president arrived. “He is a very gracious and sincere person. He’s my commander in chief. I was proud to salute him,” Phillips said.
Operation R & R founder, Grant Evans, said that getting Phillips to not only recognize the contribution that his group is making to the 3rd Infantry, but to accompany the soldiers to the island, definitely said something about Hilton Head and the commitments made.
Phillips put the efforts of Operation R & R bluntly: “It’s just fabulous.”
IN THE HEADLINES
Brigadier General Jeffery Phillips, Senior Commander at Ft. Stewart, has been in the headlines a few times. In 1988 he was part of the U.N.’s peacekeepers in Israel, Syria and Egypt who won the Nobel Peace prize.
Phillips has also “accepted” an Oscar. In 1942, film maker, Frank Capra (Lost Horizon, It’s a Wonderful Life) joined the Army. Major Capra created the film series, Why We Fight. One episode, “Prelude to War,” won an Oscar. The small statue was AWOL for decades, but somehow made it to an auction Web site in 2008. Knowing that an Oscar can’t be sold, the Web site owner contacted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy’s president, Sid Ganis, presented it to then Deputy Chief of Public Affairs, Brigadier General Jeffery Phillips, to be returned to its rightful owner: The U.S. Army.