Phillip Chavez is a father of two, husband, Native man, student at Colorado State University (CSU), brother, son and grandson. He was born and raised in Fort Collins, Colorado. He joined the United States Marines Corps at age 19 and served with 1st Battalion 4th Marines Bravo Company as an infantry machine gunner in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
He received a medical separation from the United States Marines in 2007 after a prolonged back injury. After several years, he moved to Bozeman, Montana, where he started his college journey at Montana State University (MSU) and met his future wife.
After his wife graduated from MSU, he transferred to CSU where he and his wife are continuing their education. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at CSU, loving life and raising his children.
An excerpt from Phillip's story
BLACK HORSE: HONORING MY ANCESTORS IN WAR
We practiced and practiced until everything was more muscle memory than actual thinking. Before loading up we had a little time to just hang out, prepare mentally and, for me, prepare spiritually with my native buddies. We smudged down and prayed with tobacco for bravery, and if death came for us, we would not have fear. We told jokes and gave thanks that we few men were going to follow the footsteps of our ancestors as warriors and go into battle like the stories we read as children. We joked about the stories we idolized as young men training for war. The word was given and we loaded up, with the anxiousness of young men about to play in the championship game, pumped each other up and took our positions. I remember loading up in the track with my 240Gulf and my M16 slung over my shoulder on air watch as we left the FOB. It was late afternoon when we left, and I will never forget the feeling and sounds that came next.
As we got closer to the cemetery, we could hear small arms fire and the faint pinging on the tracks hull. We were locked and loaded as we hit the wall of the cemetery. It seemed like all hell broke loose and the back gate of the track dropped. Everyone rushed out except for myself and my buddy Castellon, who got stuck with track security with me. I was on top of the track laying some cover fire for the marines below as they pushed to cover. The dusk was lit up with green and red tracers as RPGs and mortars screamed all around. While I was firing, I turned to see an RPG flying in our direction. I watched in disbelief as the rocket flew over my head and I could feel the heat of it as it impacted on a wall next to the track. I slid down into the track with this crazy feeling of holy shit, that just happened and gave a chuckle as I told myself that was too close. I got back on top of the track and continued to fight. I don’t remember how long it went on, but the fire slowed to almost nothing, the guys came back to load up in the tracks, we pulled out and returned to the FOB.
We returned to the FOB with the true feeling of living through hell. Sure, we took small arms fire and mortar rounds before, but nothing to the ultimate chaotic, hellish fire fight we just experienced. I remember joking with my buddy Flores about how I almost shit my pants when one of our sergeants told us to knock it off because there were a few guys who literally shit their pants from being in the fire fight. I felt like the only way to deal with the craziness of what had just happened was to make light and joke about it. Otherwise, fear would have set in and I would not have been of any use to my brothers in a future fire fight. Maybe that’s why we few have such a sick sense of humor that I feel will never leave me.