Cristopher De Phillips (MAPH 2009) arrived at UChicago as a MAPH student in 2008. Even now, he remembers cold and cloudy days in January. “I’d say to myself–’This thesis is never going to get done.’”
As Founder and Director of Chicago Welcomes Home the Heroes, De Phillips now finds himself in familiar circumstances–looking ahead to the execution of a difficult project whose scope seems to continuously widen–though the task that he’s set in front of himself can seem even more challenging. Along with co-founder Laurie Ipsen, De Phillips is spearheading the effort to plan and execute America’s largest welcome-home parade for veterans of America’s post-9/11 wars (THIS DECEMBER 15IN DOWNTOWN CHICAGO). The organization will also host a screening of the documentary film Hell and Back at the Reva and David Logan Center on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10 (6PM), with a panel discussion to follow.
MAPH students and alumni are welcome to attend all of the events.
All of this amounts to a huge set of logistical challenges that has demanded collaboration with civic, government, non-profit, and corporate interests (Chicago Welcomes Home the Heroes secured their first major sponsor in United Health Care on the day that I met with De Phillips and Ipsen here in Hyde Park).
De Phillips jokes that he has confidence that the work will get done in part because of his experience writing that MAPH thesis project–a project that likely seems less daunting when observed in the rear-view mirror.
He became interested in the idea of a Chicago parade after seeing Rachel Maddow’s coverage of Saint Louis’s event–which attracted roughly 100,000 people. It may seem like an unlikely calling for a MAPH alum–especially one without any firsthand experience of military life (neither De Phillips nor Ipsen has been in the armed forces). But this logistically complicated and emotional process has become the focus of De Phillips’s professional life during the past year.
“It’s important to live up to our end of the social contract that we implicitly agree to as US citizens,” he says of his commitment to the project. “Civilians are supposed to help troops transition back.” As part of the parade festivities, the organization will also be hosting a resources fair for veterans, providing free health screenings and information about higher education enrollment in partnership with Chicago organizations and educational institutions. Chicago Welcomes Home the Heroes wants to send a clear message that troops can plug into support networks, especially given that troops from recent conflicts have faced extraordinary post-combat challenges.
De Phillips and Ipsen can cite some of the most disheartening statistics about veterans of recent conflicts when they talk about the need for more resources. The US military loses more active duty personnel to suicide than actual combat. The average this year alone is one individual per day. According to De Phillips, American soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to find that unemployment among vets of these wars remains at or near 10% (this, despite the fact that today’s BLS statistics show that unemployment figures for the broader veteran population hover closer to 7%). On top of these figures, anywhere between 18-23 veterans commit suicide each month.
To meet with veterans coping with the effects of combat has broadened De Phillips’s perspective on issues that have been in the news.
“It’s a little bit different when you meet someone with PTSD. It was an abstract thing before. Now we have close personal friends who are suffering from its effects.”
Though he readily admits that “The politics of the wars go across the board,” De Phillips asserts that he has been focused on the individuals returning from those wars. “We want to celebrate the heroes.”Above all, he emphasizes that the parade is a celebration and a way of saying thank you–or in a more simple way: “It’s up to us. And it seems like the right thing to do.”
For more information about Chicago Welcomes Home the Heroes, you can join the group’s Facebook Page.
There are other places that you can read about MAPH and veterans. Going into the Field,” from Tableau, features several MAPH alumni who have served in the armed forces. Among them is Eric McMillan, who has published a short piece on TheAtlantic.com called “This Father’s War” about his service in Iraq. He was also just awarded a “Made” Fellowship for 2012-2013 from the Richard Hugo House in Seattle. Eric will use the fellowship to finish his novel. And, as part of his MAPH internship at WBEZ, alum Mike Wilson (MAPH 2011) interviewed Nick Fox (MAPH 2011) for 848about his decision to enter the military and about his combat experience in 111th Company in Mosul.