Jeff Phillips’ road to a career took him to the Middle East, three colleges, the West Texas oilfields and more than a few days wondering how he and his wife would make ends meet. After more than a decade serving as a member of the United States Marine Corps, a roughneck and a student, Jeff reached the milestone his father had wanted for him – he had a career.

Phillips was more than 100 graduates who received college degrees or certifications on Dec. 7 at Coggin Street Baptist Church in Brownwood. 

The 38-year-old father of two officially became a nurse when he accepted his Associate of Applied Science in Nursing degree from Ranger College President, Dr. William Campion.

“Everyone has heroes they look up to,” said Campion, who joined members of the Ranger College Board of Regents in presenting degrees in nursing, cosmetology and general studies to students. “This is my hero. He never gave up. He kept moving forward.”

A 1998 graduate of Early High School, Phillips initially thought his life was headed in another direction. A standout football player for the Longhorns, his plans were to play college football at Tarleton State University.

That plan didn’t work out, however.  Jeff said he decided to forego his football career in favor of creating a new plan – attending Texas State Technical College (TSTC) in Brownwood.

Unfortunately for Phillips, the TSTC route didn’t work either.

“I quickly realized that college was not for me, and that there was some higher calling,” he said.

That calling came in the form of the United States Marine Corps. Without consulting his parents, the 18-year-old enlisted into the Marines.

After informing his parents of his decision, Phillips said he remembers vividly the one question his father had for him. “What trade was I going to get from the military?”

His answer: Infantry.

“I know they were proud of me, but not pleased at the time,” he said.

Shortly after enlisting, Phillips departed for basic training. From there, he joined the infantry division. During his six-years in the USMC, he traveled throughout the globe responding to whatever need the U.S. had. As a young lance corporal, his unit was among the first to respond to Qatar when the U.S.S. Cole was hit by a terrorist attack. Shortly afterward, he was serving as a marksmanship instructor back in the States when a terrorist attack took down the Twin Towers in New York City.

In January 2003, four years after enlisting in the USMC, Phillips thought he was ready for a new career. Unfortunately, the USMC didn’t agree. On the day Jeff was scheduled to be get out, his unit was ordered to Iraq for the Desert Storm invasion.

That was the same day Jeff found out his wife was expecting their first child, a daughter.

Phillips did eventually get released back to civilian life. However, like many veterans, he said he felt lost and without a purpose. For several years, he worked as a mailman, and then decided to try his hand in the oilfield. Within two years, he was working on a big rig and things looked as if they were improving.

“I thought I had it made,” he said.

He and his wife, Melissa, celebrated his success by purchasing a new home. And about 30 minutes after he had signed the final paperwork, he received notice from his drilling company that his crew had been laid off.

“God has a sense of humor, doesn’t he? There I was broke, no job, no retirement, and nowhere to go,” he stated.

By chance, he said he was driving in Brownwood and noticed a billboard about a nursing program, Phillips grasped onto the idea of becoming a nurse.  

“I told myself, ‘this will give me purpose again,’” he said.

Phillips contacted Ranger College Director of Nursing, Carolyn Zapata about enrolling in the Brown County Campus’ nursing program. After a seven-month wait to get all of his paperwork and prerequisites met, he was admitted.

“Last March, I took a job at Brownwood Regional Medical Center working full time, while going to school full-time. A big thank you goes to my directors for working around my schedule.”

“I guess the thing I would like to say is if I can do it, you can do it,” he added. “Set your goals high and go after them.”