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Students welcome home local hero

Discusses experiences from 7 months in Iraq

Posted: November 24, 2008 9:03 p.m.
Updated: November 25, 2008 4:55 a.m.

The Phillipps family is pictured from left to right: Rachel, Lauren, Julia, Jeffrey, Elyssa, Bob, Matthew.

 
Students at Santa Clarita Christian School honored Jeffrey Phillipps during their tear-jerking "A Hero's Welcome Home" celebration Nov. 17.

Phillipps graduated from SCCS in 2005 after attending the school for 12 years and joined the Marines in March 2007. He recently returned home from his unit's combat deployment to Fallujah, Iraq.

"We were there for seven months," Phillipps said. "I'm a 3-11 rifleman, so I'm on infantry. Our main mission in Iraq was to bring security, train the Iraqi police and Iraqi army, and bring order to the city of Fallujah."

Students lined the road and waved flags to welcome Phillipps and his family to the celebration.

The Golden Valley High School 20063rd Air Force Junior ROTC Color Guard presented the American and California flags to open the celebration while Lauren Phillipps, Jeffrey's younger sister, sang the National Anthem in front of a flag backdrop made out of 1,100 frosted cupcakes.

School administration recognized Jeffrey's mom, dad, older brother and three younger sisters for their support.

They also honored the veterans in the audience. Jeffrey's father, Bob Phillipps, appreciated the school's effort to honor Jeffrey.

"We feel very honored that his school and community appreciates what he did," he said. "I don't think anyone fully understands what it's like to be gone for seven months away from friends and family and in an environment like that. To have him come back and have that honor, that was really significant to him."

The elementary school choir sang "America the Beautiful," followed by a session in which Jeffrey answered pre-submitted questions from students in the audience. Jeffrey explained how he grew through his time in Iraq.

"I realize how fragile and precious life is and how privileged we are to live in America with all the freedoms that we have," he said. "I grew stronger with Christ too because he protected me the entire time and kept me safe."

Students expressed their gratitude to Jeffrey and those who serve in the military.

"They serve our country every single day and a lot of us don't even realize it," said ninth-grader Brianna Lillenberg. "I think it's a really important part of our lives that a lot of us don't take part in."

Eighth-grader Sydney Hamilton agreed.

"They give me freedom," she said. "I'm able to live in a land where I can worship the Lord freely and I can go out on the streets without worrying that I'm going to be killed. I just can't thank them enough."

Eleventh-grader Jonny Ardavanis shared his appreciation for the celebration and hearing first hand about Jeffrey's experience in the military.

"It's a good example for us to see what discipline is and hard work is," he said.

Jeffrey's family is thankful for his service, as well as having him home for Christmas.

"He's been so brave and he hasn't lost heart even though it's been so hard for him in Iraq," said Lauren Phillipps. "He's so strong in his faith and that really encourages me in my own as well."

Jeffrey's mom agreed.

"He always had this great patriotic heart," said Rachel Phillipps. "I just love that he decided to go for that desire that was always in his heart. He faced so much ... and he's the same guy, only better."

Jeffrey will be home for a month before returning to Camp La Jeune, N.C.

"I feel very honored and blessed to be home with my family and friends," he said. "Thank you for all the support and prayers and love that everyone's sent out while I was deployed."

SCCS's administration want to inspire the students through Jeffrey's example.

"When we can honor a family and an alumni, it becomes a special day," Principal Derek Swales said. "Our school motto is teaching minds and training hearts for God. We hope we can train them to honor."

Sandra Wyllie, head of the junior high student leadership council, planned the event to show students a tangible example of patriotism.

"We felt a sense of urgency to get the concept of patriotism transferred to a younger generation that doesn't understand it," she said. "They've enjoyed it but they don't understand the sacrifice involved with it."

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