Holloman Airman wins WSMR warrior challenge

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Moments after shaking the commander’s hand, Airman 1st Class Anthony Phillips clears his throat to boisterously shout, “Aim High,” the official U.S. Air Force slogan, for all Airmen in the room to hear. Starting goals, achieving them and always setting new ones were the next words sitting on the back of his tongue ready to be spit out at any moment. 

A million thoughts were running through Phillips’ head just days after finishing the Army physical training test, and competing in the White Sands Missile Range Warrior of the Year challenge, Sept. 27, 2017.

“Everything I did was a learning experience,” said Phillips. “Competition is what drives people to be successful.”

Working in the 49th Operation Support Squadron at WSMR, Phillips is only one of 29 Airmen in the air traffic control tower. This might have made it difficult for some Airmen to earn the WOTY nomination to represent their branch.

But according to his leadership, Phillips was a no brainer.

“We chose Phillips out of 29 other Airmen in our unit because of his high military bearing and hard work ethic,” said Master Sgt. David Ruiz, 49th OSS air traffic controller. “Since he has arrived, he has been breezing through air traffic control training with a good attitude, and his supervisors wanted to reward him for it.”

This reward came in the form of a three-day competition. Phillips readily accepted the challenge to represent not only his unit, but the entire Air Force.

“Col. (Erik) Hendrickson, (49th OSS commander), mentioned representing our squadron, and the Air Force at our last commander’s call,” said Phillips. “I thought about it, and how it was a great opportunity for the 49th OSS.”

Supported by his leadership and wingmen, Phillips laced his shoes, ready to compete in the Army Competition, which began with the Army PT test.  

Day one -- Monday, Sept. 25. Phillips participated in the Army PT test to include a two-mile run, two minutes of push-ups and two minutes of sit-ups. This was a contrast to the Air Force’s PT test of a mile-and-a-half run, one minute of push-ups and one minute of sit-ups. Even with these differences, the 25-year-old weightlifter placed first.

After a few hours of rest, the competitors marched to the Land Navigation test. Here, Phillips had to plot several points around WSMR and run to each point with a 35-pound rucksack. Even with little experience doing land navigation while rucking, the former Boy Scout placed second.

The most intimidating part for Phillips began on day two -- the Army board.

“The hardest part was the preparation for the board, said Phillips. “I only found out a few weeks before and I had to make time to learn all the topics.”

Day two -- Tuesday, Sept. 26. The competitors nervously met in front of the board, which included five members from all military branches. From his Air Force training, Phillips could only think about not doing facing movements on the carpet. This did not matter today. Phillips refocused on the board.

The topics for the board included: service songs, installation history, current events, service history, military rank, chain of command, force protection, U.S. Military customs and courtesies, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, first aid, code of conduct, the U.S. Constitution, equal opportunity and service dress uniform for all services. Despite the difficulties of the Army challenge, the studious Phillips placed first.

Phillips still did not know his scores and overall placement within the competition, he waited.

Day three -- Wednesday, Sept. 27. Phillips stood among the other junior enlisted members, the only Airman, replaying the experience in his head. In this moment of fear and doubt, all for nothing as the news came out, and he won WSMR’s WOTY challenge and received an Army Commendation Medal.

Phillips won with grace, and felt the appreciation of his competitors and community on post.

“It almost seems like everywhere you go, you have either talked to someone before or know who that person is,” said Phillips. “WSMR is like a small community, and I thought the competition made it even more enjoyable because I better understand the different branches of service, and where they are coming from.”

For Airmen, WSMR and Holloman are a unique community. With Phillips only being stationed with the 49th Wing for seven months, and an Airman for a little over a year, he considers this his home.

In fact, his accomplishments as an Airman winning the Army challenge bolstered pride at Holloman as he was recognized by Holloman senior leaders.

Col. Houston Cantwell, 49th Wing commander, asked Phillips during his recognition ceremony to offer advice to other Airmen after his recent accomplishments. In a room full of officers and commanders, his heart beating, hands sweating and mind racing, Phillips responded with a two-word message, “Aim High.”

Phillips’ foundation as an Airman is to set goals, accomplish them and set new ones.

With his heart and mind focused on being the most successful Airman he can be, Phillips is ready for future challenges.

 “It is a constant battle to become better, and you are battling yourself,” Phillips said. “You want to become more successful than you already are.”