Philip Hale's Journey from the Battle Zone to the End Zone
Philip Hale, a fullback for the Santa Monica College football team, was 17 years old with no future in sight.
It was then that decided he would join the military, two years before the "War on Terror," also known as the Iraq War. Many students like Hale come out of high school not knowing where life will take them: some go to college, some work. Then, there are those who join the military. They risk their lives for patriotic pride, or maybe they just had nowhere else to turn.
Hale was born in Texas, and his family moved to Tennessee by the time he was 6. Hale's father left him, his two brothers and three sisters two years later.
"I don't remember much about my dad," said Hale. "I remember he was abusive." But eventually, Hale gained a stepfather, who adopted him as his own. "I was really close to my step-dad, he taught [me] everything."
Hale attended high school at Stuart County High in Dover, Tenn. "There is one stop-light in the whole town. The whole county goes to one school," he said.
In high school, Hale played three sports: basketball, baseball and football.
"Football was my main sport. I played defensive end, tight end and running back. I was alright. It was a pretty small school so I didn't get any looks," said Hale about his high school sports career.
"When I was done with high school, I woke up one day, I told myself, 'I have no money, no grades,' so, I joined the military."
Hale joined the army and was immediately was sent off to the infantry due to his color blindness. He was then sent to the 172nd Stryker brigade, 4-23 infantry division. This turned out to be Hale's best shot at making a little name for himself.
"When I joined the infantry, they sent me off to Anchorage, Alaska. There I out-shot everyone, in the shooting exercises."
Hale was then posted in Fort Benning, Ga. When he got there, he excelled in shooting competitions and was consequently awarded a medal and a shot at sniper school.
"The competitions were half for fun, half for training. When they gave me my medal, they sent me to sniper school."
Upon arrival, however, Hale met some challenges: "the doctors told me that I might not be able to go because I was color blind. I begged them to let me go. I told them that I wanted to and that I was really good. The doctor signed off and I went to school."
At sniper school, in an undisclosed location, Hale became stock master of his group, graduated second in "Top Gun" and was second for honor guard.
His high ranking was unusually arduous: "We started with 40 people, 20 make it and only 10 graduate," he said.
In August of 2005, Hale got the news he never thought would come: the war in Iraq was getting violent. Suicide bombers where attacking United States military personnel.
The Army had to do something to stop these casualties. The U.S. sent a team of snipers to go to Iraq to "take out" the bombers, and protect convoys from a distance.
"I got my orders summer of 2005....I called my parents, they had already been told. There is a part of the military that calls the families of those who are going overseas to war. They know before we even know. They do it so it's easier on the families and the soldiers.
"My mom cried. My dad, he just told me that he was proud. He said, just keep your head down, come back as soon as you can and get them for us."
Hale's orders were only to be for a year. He was to go back to Anchorage and deploy to Mosul, Northern Iraq.
In Mosul, Hale was given a mission almost every day. "I got missions to 'discard of terrorist.' We had to stop them from putting bombs on our vehicles, or try to stop suicide bombers. We would hide for days in buildings, waiting in common spots that were attacking us. If we saw a terrorist we were to take them out."
"On one mission," he said, "there was a counter sniper. He [had been] sniping our soldiers. They assembled four teams. It was me, a buddy and my good friend Lopez on my team. They put us out at night with food, a radio, lights and our equipment.
"We split off to the area where he had been attacking. My group went into a building and stayed there for about a week. All I ate was tuna packs. I'm sick of tuna. About a week into it, my group found the guy and I took him out."
Hale not only was an expert sniper, but he had figured out a better way to get to the bombers. He told his superiors that they should put a camera out in the open that read, "U.S. military only, please do not touch."
"They would come out to mess with the cameras," said Hale, "and we'd take them out." Hale spent six months in Mosul, but he did not come out untouched. While out on a mission, he was sniping out a "terrorist" and was shot at.
The bullet hit the muzzle of his gun, and threw shrapnel in his face and up his right arm. He was treated for his wounds. When he was back on his feet, he and his team were then sent to Rawaah, a place that soldiers call "The Death Triangle."
Rawah is located in Western Iraq, right in the middle of the desert. While Mozul is a city and there are buildings to hide in during combat, Rawah is hot with no shade.
"We had to change our clothes to desert tactics," he said. Hale was dropped off again in the dead of night; he was to immediately dig a hole in the sand to get to the cooler ground for shelter from the sun.
During the day the temperatures in that part of Iraq can reach up to 150 degrees.
"My buddy Lopez found a frog, a frog in the desert, so he picked it up and dropped it in our water. There was a big flash and the frog was gone. That's how hot it was. The water would blister our throat. It was hell on earth."
After spending the other half of his service in the scaulding heat of the desert, Hale was finished. He was taken out of Rawah and told he could go back home to Alaska. "When I left Rawah, I found out that I had actually broken a rib. I don't know if it's from sleeping in small places, or when a percussion hit from a bomb hit me. I was about to leave, I had two more hours to wait, and then they came to me and said I was to go to Baghdad," he said.
"They said they needed us badly. Some of the guys were on their way home. They had to turn around. They were pulling people out of bars, people thought they were going home."
Hale was sent back into battle. Six months later the army let him go home, but Hale had no place to go back to:
"People lose feeling, they lose touch with their loved ones. You lose complete touch with your family. I came out of the military; I had back pains, a herniated disc in my neck. Everything over there just breaks you down. It scares you for life."
When Hale was discharged from the military, he came to L.A. with a laptop and two bags. He decided to go back to school, and play football. Hale then walked on the SMC football team as a fullback, but was never able to really play cause of a herniated disc in his neck.
"I never really felt the same way again," he said. "I wanted to play so badly, but the doctors never cleared me for my neck."
Hale is in his last year of football eligibility for Santa Monica College. He was just cleared by doctors to play football, but the Corsairs season is over.
"I want to play, maybe I can go to UNLV or UCLA and be a walk-on. I have good doctors. The army calls me all the time to check on me, they pay for all my medical bills, I don't worry about money too much," he said.
"Hopefully I can be healthy and be able to play football again."
Many of our youth join the military for different reasons. Some are scared of the future, some are lost, and some just want to make their country proud.
We have a hero here at SMC. Hale did not join when the there was war in the Middle East, but he got placed in the center of the conflict.
"I don't see things the same anymore," he said. "I walk differently, I'm always aware of buildings, trees, and places to hide. People don't know what it's like, only if you've seen it can you really understand what war is.
"My life has been a lifetime worth of lessons all wrapped up into a few years, and that can really mess up your head."