Last 133rd Airlift Wing Vietnam-Era Veteran Retires
By Tech. Sgt. Paul Santikko, 133rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 29, 2015
Saint Paul, Minn -- A retirement ceremony was held for Master Sgt. Michael Stephen Phillips of the 210th Engineer Squadron on Aug. 23, 2015 at the 133rd DFAC, commemorating a 35-year commitment to service that spanned over four decades, making him the last Vietnam-era veteran actively serving with the 133rd Airlift Wing.
An 18 year-old Phillips first joined the active-duty Air Force on Sep. 18, 1973 as a security police specialist and was stationed at the 148th Fighter Wing (when it was still an active-duty base) in Duluth, Minnesota. After four years he decided to get out and had a seven-year break in service until his wife saw an ad on television for a special program in the National Guard, prompting him to return.
"Back then they had what was called the Try-1 program for prior active-duty members to join the guard, it allowed you to sign up for a year and see if you liked it," said Phillips. "If it didn't work out, you could get out, and if it did... well, I ended up staying for another 31 years!"
After various supply positions at the 133rd Air Lift Wing in St. Paul, Minnesota, Phillips ultimately found his way to the 210th in September of 1986 where he spent the rest of his career through August of 2015.
"Mike is one of the most character-driven professional airman I have had the privilege of being acquainted with," Said Brig. Gen. Greg Haase, director of the United States European Command's Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center and former wing-commander of the 133rd. "Mike was always there with a smile, but more important with that smile, he got things done effectively and efficiently."
Phillips' resilient attitude is testament to someone who had served when wearing the uniform wasn't always a popular decision during and after the Vietnam War.
There was one instance in particular that Phillips remembers while getting gas at a service station.
Two individuals having a conversation were making references towards the Vietnam War and how service members were nothing but a bunch of war mongers, baby killers and rapists everything that a soldier or an airman actually was, said Phillips. "I can remember how hurtful that was to me and I had to just let is roll off my back because I was in uniform."
"At the very best veterans at that time were ignored and at the very least they were vilified I'd say Mike rose above that 42 years later with his 35 combined years of service," said Col. Loren Hubert, vice-wing commander of the 133rd Airlift Wing. "I think he transcended the problems of the era he started in, and by electing to stay in, shows a great amount of resiliency on his part."
At the retirement ceremony, a full house of colleagues and friends paid tribute to Phillips with words of accolade and well wishes. Doing what he did best, Phillips humorously crunched the numbers on what he kept track of, not just in building materials, but in cups of coffee, soda and donuts that he provided for his co-workers at the 210th.
"How do you sum-up 35 years in 30 seconds or a minute?" said Phillips. "I have had a tremendous career with an organization on the cutting edge of technology while working with some of the brightest people I know."
"I can look back on jobs structures a hundred feet tall or cable buried under the ground for miles and know that I was a part of that," said Phillips. "The items and resources I provided allowed them to get that job done and that is what it was all about, being part of a team."
In his retirement, Phillips plans to get involved as a volunteer at the Trylon Microcinema near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis and stay in shape at a water-aerobics class that he will be teaching in the Twin Cities area.