Santa Fe native Philip Aubrey — now a staff sergeant of the U.S. Army — entered the National Guard in 2000 while still attending Santa Fe High School. At that time, he had but one goal: “I couldn’t wait to get out of Santa Fe. I was counting down the days,” he said during a recent phone interview.
But after serving more than 13 years in the Army, including several overseas combat tours, Aubrey realizes there really is no place like home.
“Ironically, now a lot of us who found ourselves wanting out find that once we get out, we really just want to come back. My wife and I joke that whenever the Army gives us the chance — or whenever I get out — we would love to move back to Santa Fe.”
Just a few weeks ago, Aubrey received a Bronze Star Medal for valor at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he lives with his wife, Emma, two dogs and three cats.
The 32-year-old serves in Brigade Medical Operations for the Army. Initially, he wanted to be a Naval officer and later tried to join the Army’s Special Forces. But destiny had other plans for Aubrey, and a number of factors — including a broken neck sustained during a Special Forces assessment drill — kept him working as an Army medic.
He joined the New Mexico Army National Guard as a combat medic because he wanted to earn money to go to college.
“Ultimately, I got activated for deployment, which made school almost impossible to finish on time,” he recalled. One deployment led to another, including operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn — both in Iraq — Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Beyond the Horizon in Trinidad.
This military veteran, who has racked up a chest full of service medals, recalled being a mischief-making teen in Santa Fe. “Nothing worse than truancy and staying out too late and driving around too fast,” he said. “I spent most of my time in high school with the ROTC kids. That is probably what defined me in high school.”
Yet, he recalls with fondness two teachers who made an impact: Mrs. Gutierrez, his fifth-grade teacher at Atalaya Elementary School, and Mrs. Joan Kendrick, his English teacher at Santa Fe High.
Gutierrez, he said, “was one of the best teachers I ever had. She made learning interesting and fun. You knew you were with somebody who genuinely cared about you.”
As for Kendrick, “She is probably the person most responsible for my interest and appreciation in writing and reading. There was something about the way she taught — her style and empathy, how much she cared about all of us. She really inspired me to keep working on my writing, and writing is something I really enjoy doing.”
Speaking by phone, Kendrick said she still recalls Aubrey as a memorable student because he was “a little more serious about thinking about life than many students his age. … He was honest and straightforward and compassionate toward his fellow students.”
And the military taught him discipline, deadlines and other talents, as he related: “My wife and I were just laughing; she said, ‘You cook, you are very clean, you are very organized. You are a strange man.’ ”
The military also reinforced for him the value of volunteering for your country.
“The military has given me a great appreciation for the sacrifice of the people who have come before us,” he said. “The character it builds, the integrity it gives you — I don’t think you can get that in may other job fields. There’s a great level of empathy and assistance and public service. You won’t see too many military people drive by a bad car accident before help is there and not offer a hand.”
Aubrey and his wife are attempting to operate a counseling center for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. “There is such a stigma against seeking that help in the military, and there are so many people who need it. In the public’s eye, everybody assumes that there is something wrong with you, but nobody wants to do anything about it.”
His mother, Karen Aubrey, still lives and works in Santa Fe as an attorney.
“I feel fortunate to have gotten out of Santa Fe and led the life that I have, but I would love to come back,” he said. “Santa Fe has its own energy. There are not many places in the world where your parents will let you wander out with a gallon of water and hike into the mountains all day. That independence and an appreciation of nature is a gift Santa Fe gave me.”