Joining the military was never a question for John Phillips, ’82. It’s been in his family’s blood for more than two centuries, tracing his heritage back to William Harper, a Scotch Irishman, who traveled from Belfast to Charleston, S.C., on the ship Earl of Donegal in the mid-1700s, settling in Lancaster County.
More recently, his uncle David Phillips served in the U.S. Navy during World War II; his aunt Marion Phillips Scherer served as U.S. Navy nurse stationed at Walter Reed Hospital and in Panama, also during World War II; another uncle, Charles Phillips, served in the U.S. Air Force; and his father, Steve Phillips Jr., served as an officer in the U.S. Army Infantry for 30 years, fighting in World War II and the Vietnam War.
“The tradition lives on with the newest addition, my nephew Steve Phillips IV, who currently serves in the U.S. Naval Reserve (and is an Orange County Deputy Sheriff),” he says. “My family has established a proud history of service and love of liberty, which is now simply a part of our DNA.”
Phillips began his military journey after graduating from Oviedo High School. He was in the field artillery and spent a year in Oklahoma and two years in Augsburg, Germany. After receiving an honorable discharge two weeks after returning home, he started college at Valencia, with a concentration in business administration.
When he transferred to UCF, he joined the Army ROTC program — eventually becoming its corps commander — and was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a field artillery officer. During his career, he was stationed in Oklahoma, Germany, Colorado, Kentucky, Georgia and Saudi Arabia.
Through his experiences, he says he learned he can endure hostile weather and conditions and still come out just fine on the other end.
Retired from the Army, Phillips works as director of finance for the System of the Future at The Coca-Cola Company — an organization that has a long-standing relationship with the Armed Forces, dating back to World War II.
He credits his UCF business degree as the reason he’s worked in corporate finance at Coca-Cola for the past 16 years, as well as the reason that allowed him to be selected as a U.S. Army comptroller.
Now, he’s sharing his military and business experiences in his first book, “Boots to Loafers: Finding Your True North.”
“I’ve had [the book] in my mind for more than a decade,” he explains. “[It] details how our veterans, who have fought the good fight, can now find a new ‘true north’ to help guide them through the journey toward their second life, or new normal, outside the gate.”
Phillips had the opportunity to speak with fellow veterans about his book and experiences during the UCF Book Festival in April.
“I’m an avid veterans’ advocate, and helping those who will follow in my tracks is what I love to do,” he says. “I didn’t have anyone doing that for me when I retired, and I wish I did.”
REPORTING FOR Q&A DUTY
Q. What’s your least favorite word?
A. I have three off the top of my head. One is “dude.” I hate it. And, if anyone says it to me, I correct them quickly. I’d also say “no” is not one of my favorites either. It takes three “no”s to make me go away, and then there’s no guarantees. And last, “supposed to” or “should.” I hate it when people say this, because they are assuming something.
Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Play the guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughn!
Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. Another 1982 UCF graduate and my best friend, Jim Lilly. We met on the practice football field at Oviedo High School trying to get the starting position on the team. We’ve been best friends for more than four decades, and he lives right down the road from me here in Georgia!
Q. What’s your favorite movie?
A. I have three: “Dirty Dozen,” “Jeremiah Johnson” and “The Great Escape.”
Q. What’s the best concert you ever attended?
A. Eagles, 1977, Munich Olympia Halle. An incredible concert.
Q. What’s your favorite place to visit?
A. Three places come to mind: British Virgin Islands, St. George Island, and the great state of Idaho.
Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. Patience. Go on vacation with six children and you learn to exercise a tremendous amount of patience and understanding. What we take for granted, they are just learning. Coach, teach, and mentor — just like I learned in the U.S. Army — holds true with kids.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. From my father: “Always take the harder right!”
Q. What or who inspires you?
A. I was inspired by my father. The things he did in his lifetime were incredible. He was one of the Greatest Generation… He was raised on a farm in rural South Carolina and went to Clemson College (was not a university back then) on a Sears & Roebuck scholarship, was in World War II and Vietnam, and retired from the U.S. Army as a Colonel. After his military career, he sold brick across the state of Florida, and much of UCF is his brick.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. My wife and I love the British Virgin Islands. I also head west with my brother and close friends, and we either whitewater raft or canoe in remote locations through the western U.S. I’m an avid outdoorsman and love being in very remote and primitive locations.