JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
A Brooke Army Medical Center volunteer found his spiritual calling at age 50 and has been giving back ever since.
Phillip Lewis has been a BAMC Department of Ministry and Pastoral Care volunteer since July 1996 and was recognized as the 2018 BAMC Volunteer of the Year for his dedication and selfless service to others.
He's come a long way since his youth as an Army "brat."
Lewis was born in 1946 in New Mexico. His mother Marian Lewis was a stay-at-home mom and his father, Col. Arden Lewis, was a World War II veteran who retired after serving 33 years in the Army.
After graduating high school, he decided to follow in his footsteps, joining the Army three days after his 18th birthday.
“Dad was a very good man. That is the one thing I remember from him was that he loved serving his country,” Lewis said.
The young enlisted infantry paratrooper headed to Vietnam with his unit, the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles, in the spring of 1965.
“I served with the 1st Brigade as an infantry reconnaissance squad leader,” Lewis said. “At 19 years old, I was promoted to sergeant and was in charge of leading my Soldiers in the battlefield.”
He joined the Army with the hope of attending the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, but that all changed when he was wounded by machine gun fire and medically evacuated to an Army hospital in Japan.
He vividly recalls that day because two of his Soldiers, who were on each side of him, were killed.
The dream of attending West Point was gone, but a Veteran Affairs program supporting wounded Soldiers helped him to go to school through the vocational rehabilitation program. He was accepted to Trinity University in San Antonio and was hired by the VA to assist other Soldiers.
Lewis met his wife Susan in 1967 and they were married in 1968 at the Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church, where they first met. They have been happily married for 51 years and have two adult children and two grandchildren.
In 1971, Lewis decided on a career in law enforcement. He became the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms resident agent-in-charge for the San Antonio area and retired after 25 years of service. He was also a certified crisis and hostage negotiator.
“Law enforcement is to serve and protect the people like the Army serves and protects our country,” Lewis said.
A turning point in his career came during the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.
“We lost four special agents and 20 others were wounded that day,” Lewis recalled. “I was there and watched special agents get killed in a line of fire, while others were badly wounded. The bomb explosions going off reminded me of the war zone in Vietnam.”
Lewis and his fellow agents struggled with their emotions after the traumatic event. He realized that some of the agents were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This drove him to give back in return for his life being spared and to help ease the lives of those who were suffering.
Lewis joined a peer support group with a small team of senior special agents professionally trained to help those suffering from PTSD.
Throughout his life, Lewis was committed to serving God and helping others. His calling steered him to Brooke Army Medical Center to volunteer in the Department of Ministry and Pastoral Care in 1996.
In 1997, he was commissioned as a chaplain.
“I’m so thankful that the law enforcement provided training and experience as a peer support counselor to fit very well into my work as a chaplain,” Lewis said. “It was especially helpful after 9/11 when BAMC began receiving wounded warriors and I was in a position to interact with them and their families during their stay.”
Lewis thought he would follow his father’s path of being a Soldier, traveling to different locations with his family. He never imagined his life would guide him to become a dutiful chaplain and a volunteer at BAMC.
“I feel honored and humble to function as a chaplain at BAMC,” Lewis said. “I don’t consider what I do is work, it is a privilege to volunteer at the hospital because I am just one amongst many who share their time and energy to support BAMC.”
He describes himself as “grateful and blessed” for his upbringing and thankful to be alive and serving God and his country.
Today, Lewis continues his devotion doing virtuous work in helping others by providing comfort in listening, visiting and caring.