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One laid-back Marine

NAME: Sgt. Rhett Phillips

AGE: 23

HOMETOWN: Pittsfield, Ill.

SERVICE: Marines

ROLE: Second in charge of 13 Marines.


CAMP VIPER, Southern Iraq—About an hour before getting on a bus to start the long journey to Kuwait, Sgt. Rhett Phillips was pulled aside.

"Have you been to MCT (Marine combat training)?" someone asked.

"No," Phillips said.

Phillips, 23, of Pittsfield, Ill., had been in the Marines for nearly six years but never attended the course. Most Marines take it after boot camp, but Phillips is a reservist, so he went to training exercises instead. He had forgotten about it.

Phillips was ordered to stay behind at Camp Pendleton in California to take the course as the rest of Charlie Company left for Kuwait. He rejoined his unit in Kuwait four days before the war started.

"I kind of had to hit the ground running, but I adapt well," he said.

And sometimes, he hits the ground running with explosives. On one memorable day, he charged an enemy tank position with two sticks of explosives in his hand. He's not sure who gave them to him.

"I had the C-4, and I didn't really know what I was going to do with it," he says. "I was going to set it on the tank."

In the end, the tank was a decoy; he didn't have to set off the explosives.

A few days later, Phillips got into trouble for being so close to the tank. He should have delegated the job.

"I shouldn't have been up there carrying it, apparently, is what I was told," Phillips says. "It was just a butt-chewing. It's not a big deal. Butt-chewings are a dime a dozen in the Marine Corps."

Almost nothing bothers him. Phillips is a rarity: a laid-back Marine.

"People tend to lose their head, but I told myself I wouldn't do that, never," Phillips says. "I never do."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES-PHILLIPS