A family’s duty: Appleton women proud of Lt. Col. Phillip Appleton’s service

October 2010 Posted in People

By Kristine ThomasBitsie, left, Kari, Phil, Annie and Kat Appleton pose for a family picture following deployment ceremonies at Community Stadium in La Grande on Sept. 21.

Silverton resident Kari Appleton has devised a way for her husband to be in two places at once.

So even though he’s literally serving in Northern Iraq, a life-size, one-dimensional cardboard cutout of him from the waist up will be in family photographs and attending his family’s events.

“We took a picture of him and made a ‘Flat Daddy’ of him in cardboard that can be folded in half,” Kari said.

“So even though he’s in Iraq, we will carry him around and make sure he’s in every picture.”

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Phillip Appleton is the commander of the 3rd Combined Arms Battalion for the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team.

Perspective and experience provide Kari the strength and confidence to endure her husband leaving home for a year to serve his country.

“This isn’t the first time he has served in Iraq,” she said. “Because it’s the second time, it’s easier now. We will miss him but we are proud of him. We are OK with sharing him at this time with others.”

Along with her daughters, Katherine, 16; Elizabeth, 15, and Anne, 13, Kari attended the mobilization ceremony for the troops on Sept. 21 in La Grande. The brigade will train at Camp Shelby, Miss., for two months before they are stationed 10 months in Northern Iraq, returning late fall of 2011. Appleton said his soldiers are responsible for convoy security of “Operation New Dawn,” the final phase of the Iraq war. American troops are shifting from combat and intelligence into a role of advising and assisting the Iraqi forces.

Sitting at a table at Gear Up Coffee in Silverton before he left, Phillip reflected on how he was in Iraq for the beginning and now the “tail end” of the U.S. military’s role in Iraq.

“I will be able to see what has happened since the ugly stages in the beginning to what has happened in the last six to seven years,” said Phillip, who works full-time for the Oregon Army National Guard.

Phillip, 41, was 17 years old when he joined the National Guard. He mused how he’s now leading the same unit he started in as a private.

“I joined the Guard because I liked the concept of service and serving my country,” he said. “My dad encouraged me to take the officer route.”

A graduate of now Eastern Oregon University, Phillip said it’s a solemn responsibility to lead his troops, who will be responsible for security of convoys delivering supplies.

Like his wife, experience and perspective guide him in his responsibilities. Upon learning his unit would be deployed, he set forth making sure it would have the necessary training to be successful.

Being a commander, he said, requires him to wear several different hats including parent, boss, coach, policeman, judge and social worker.

“That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I do,” he said. “My job is to train and develop soldiers.”

To prepare soldiers to be away from loved ones for a year, Phillip said teaches them to focus on what the mission is and what it will require to accomplish it.

“It’s necessary to learn how to compartmentalize to do this job,” he said.

What you see is who he is, Phillip said, adding he doesn’t have time to play games.

“The way I lead people, they need to have thick skins,” he said. “I don’t put up with any BS. I have learned you have to confront issues head on because if you don’t, problems will fester and you can’t tolerate that.”

One of his favorite quotes is by Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Britain.

“Sometimes it is not enough to do your best. Sometimes you need to do what is required,” Churchill said.

“It’s not enough in the military to give it the old college try,” he said. “I have little tolerance for people who make the same mistakes or don’t honor their word.”

He’s grateful for his family and friends who have shown him and his family their support. The members of St. Paul’s Catholic Church held a reception for him before his departure.

The Rev. William Hammelman of St. Paul’s Catholic Church said it’s hard to put into a few words what Phillip means to the community.

“Phil is a great leader and role model, especially for young men,” Hammelman said. “His family is central to his life and the whole family is a blessing to our community.  Phil has an extraordinary sense of service not just to our country, but to the community.”

Jack DeSantis, a fellow parishioner, handmade 5,000 rosaries that were blessed and then shipped to Iraq for priests to give to soldiers.

“From a soldier’s perspective knowing that the community supports them has a huge impact on morale,” he said. “It’s important whether you agree or not with the mission that people support those who are serving our country.”

Both Kari and Phillip Appleton said they have never felt as included in a community as they are in Silverton. They know they have friends who they can call upon if needed. Technology – from emails to text messages – make it easier for Appleton to stay in touch with his wife and daughters.

As Kari Appleton and her daughters keep busy with monthly activities as well as the daily routine, Phillip Appleton knows he’s ready for the task ahead.

“It’s really very humbling to be commander and know the insurmountable responsibility I have,” he said. “I am honored at the same time that people have the confidence in my leadership ability.”

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