By Ed Carpenter
If Jophiel Philips JD ’11 had been five yards closer, he wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale. The U.S. Air Force JAG captain was blown into the air, when insurgents detonated a car bomb at the entrance to his military base in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 7 — killing six soldiers.
When Philips regained consciousness, the first thing he did was rush to the rescue of an injured chaplain, shuttling him to safety. Then, he returned to the fight and helped repel the insurgents, who’d proceeded to attack Camp Integrity with machine guns and suicide vests, during a raging two-hour battle.
“I witnessed the best of America’s best that day,” Philips says. “In the midst of extreme danger, they were called upon to do their jobs and they executed without hesitation.”
The best of USF
As a result of the explosion, Philips suffered a traumatic brain injury, a sprained ankle, and a sprained knee, among other injuries. He was evacuated by helicopter. He later received a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart because he was injured in battle.
At Camp Integrity, Philips was part of the legal JAG team that sifted through intelligence to determine probable cause for military action. Now recovered, Philip is stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, where he’s a prosecutor and advises commanders on the rules of war in ongoing battles in the Middle East and globally.
“Capt. Philips represents the best of USF,” says law Professor Robert Talbot, who taught Philips evidence law. “His talent, perseverance, integrity, and willingness to take on difficult assignments exemplify the type of students that succeed here.”
Philips chose the USF School of Law because it’s dedicated to producing good people who are lawyers — an important distinction from schools that just focus on producing lawyers, he says.
A strong sense of family and love
Philips’ connection to USF faculty like Julie Nice, Sharon Meadows, and Jack Garvey went beyond a teacher-student relationship. They became mentors, and he’s still in touch with them. Some, like Talbot, even invited Philips and other students to their houses for Thanksgiving and Easter.
“USF is an amazing place,” Philips says. “There is a strong sense of family and love there.”
Philips wasn’t a natural at law to start, and his grades the first semester showed it. When faculty and fellow classmates saw him struggling, they went out of their way to help. “Students in my classes, those I was ‘competing against,’ often stayed after classes and joined study sessions to make sure I understood the material,” Philips says.
The law school’s Academic Support Program (ASP) also contributed to his turnaround. “I’m speaking from personal experience when I say USF doesn’t give up on people and believes in people,” Philips says.
In his second year, Philips decided it was his turn to help and joined ASP as a tutor, guiding first-year students who were struggling like he had.
“USF taught me the importance of understanding the human element and story behind every legal issue. As a JAG, I never lose sight of the people who will be affected by legal action that I take and that has taken me a long way,” Philips says.