Memorial Day holiday weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summer for most people. It means barbeques, travel, going to the beach, etc. It is a three day weekend that many try to extend to four days by taking Friday off which it has been for me for as long as I can remember.
But this Memorial Day has taken on a whole new meaning since my brother passed away in October, 2013. It is now what Memorial Day is truly all about; remembering those that have served their country and are no longer with us. It is for honoring those that made the ultimate sacrifice in protecting and defending our Nation and ideals.
This Memorial Day I’m honoring and remembering my brother, Colonel Philip A. Bossert Jr., for the amazing life he had. He was an individual with a strong moral compass and a focus who served our country with honor and distinction. He was accomplished and did so much more than most in his fifty-four years in this world.
Here is a brief recap of my brother’s service to our country:
Phil graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1982 as a Second Lieutenant. During the ensuing years he received a Masters of Arts in Economics, magna cum laude from Old Dominion University; a Masters of Military Art and Science from U.S. Army CGSC; a Master of Public Administration, summa cum laude, Auburn University; and a Master of Arts in Strategic Studies from the Air War College.
From 1983 through 1987 he was a CT-39B aircraft commander and C-21A instructor pilot out of Langley AFB in Virginia; from 1987 through 1991 he was a C-141B instructor pilot and wing combat plans officer at McGuire AFB in New Jersey. In 1991, Phil had assignments in Colorado, Kansas, and Illinois, and by 2000 he was a Lieutenant Colonel and was the Commander of the 821st Air Mobility Squadron out of McGuire AFB.
Shortly after 9/11 my brother was deployed to Bagram Air base outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. At one point, he was the highest ranking officer at the air base between December 2001 and February 2002. After Afghanistan, Phil became the Chief of Training and Exercises for the NATO Interim Deployable Air Operations Center at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. He was bumped to full bird Colonel in 2004 at which time he became Commander of the USAFE Air Mobility Operations Control Center, also at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Basically he was in charge of the C-141 fleet for Europe and the Middle East.
Among his many awards and decorations are the following; the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medals, the Army Commendation Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Medal, Air Force Organizational Medal, the Combat Readiness Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, and the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia & Kuwait).
Phil had a very impressive career serving our great nation. After 28 years he decided to retire in 2010 and enter the private sector and we all figured that he would teach or something along those lines.
Instead, Phil again was serving our country as a private individual offering up leadership training to the Afghanistan military. He was assigned to the NATO training mission at Camp Eggers, the Green Zone in Kabul, and taught 30 senior Afghan officers- generals and colonels- how to develop a three-year, $15 billion defense budget.
Here is what he had to say about his last tour in Afghanistan in an email to me:
The challenges the Afghans face are enormous including recovering from thirty-one years of war (which obviously continues with the insurgency), to low literacy rates, poor healthcare, low life expectancy (45 is the average life expectancy), horrendous child mortality (20%), ineffective government services, and major environmental degradation. While they are good hosts, are clearly happy we are here, they have already grown too dependent on us. There is a heightened sense of urgency in the coalition to accelerate their self-sufficiency. As you saw in the news the past week the deadline to transfer control to the Afghans has shifted from 2011 to 2014, and at the major NATO conference in Lisbon later this week the member nations will discuss this in more detail. This shift is simply an acceptance of the reality on the ground.
Overall I enjoy this job although the lifestyle can be very grinding, with not much to do in your free time, too long days, poor air quality, and the subtle and constant concerns regarding force protection (although this is perhaps the safest part of Afghanistan).
I had talked to Phil several times since he headed over to Afghanistan and two months into it he was already looking forward to completing this assignment. You can hear it in his voice; the strain of being in a war zone, the monotony of daily life living in secure compound with the constant security concerns.
I had gotten an email from him on Christmas Eve of 2010 and here is part of what he had to say about being overseas:
“It is harder than I thought, but I keep busy and have made some nice friends here and will make the best of things. After this assignment I will be at peace with myself knowing that I did my job during the longest war in American history.”
Phil had a focus and a drive to him that was relentless; he was detail oriented. His assignments took him all around the globe and he had a thirst for knowledge. Aside from the aforementioned masters’ degrees, he had also served on the faculties of the Air Force Academy and the University of Houston and was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Phil published 97 articles, book reviews, and editorials on various topics. He also had published two books and was currently in the process of working on his third book about his three deployments to Afghanistan.
The last conversation I had with my brother was several weeks ago when I visited him at his home outside of Houston, Texas. I told him that I was sorry for the way the cards were dealt. He said simply; “Life is random; I could have been hit by a bullet, a missile or taken out by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) during anyone of the wars that I was in.” It was true there was always a high chance that he could have been killed instantly in any of the war zones he was in over the years or on any one of the missions he did.
He went on to say; “Shit happens and it’s out of our control. You just have to live your life to the fullest and have no regrets. Don’t worry about me, I’m going to be alright” He had no regrets and was completely at peace with his situation and went out with dignity knowing he accomplished so much in his 54 years in this world.
Colonel Philip A. Bossert, USAF (Ret) was my brother. He was my hero.
I hope that you will take a moment this Memorial Day Weekend and remember those that served our Nation; that fought when called upon; that were wounded or gave their lives protecting and defending the rights given to us by the constitution of our great country. It is those men and women that are all our Heroes.