Veterans in focus
There are many stories at VCU. This is the place to find stories focusing on VCU military veterans. In this new section, read and learn about a VCU veteran student each month.
"I sure as hell wouldn’t have as many great stories, and I wouldn’t have been on as many adventures"
Phillip Gandhi is a leader, veteran, runner, youth mentor, long-distance hiker, double degree major, and a dedicated student here at VCU. As a third generation immigrant from India, living in Southern California, Phillip has often filled many roles; roles such as friend to many latinx immigrants, wrestler, student, son, worker, etc. Spend five minutes with him and you’ll know that was never going to be enough for Phillip. After working a few mundane desk jobs, Philip decided he had taken everything SOCAL had to offer. He signed up to join the Air force.
Philip served as an airmen for four years traveling and training in six states and multiple units. A few months into his training after Basic he suffered a major setback, spraining his right labrum. His career and service was put into jeopardy as he slowly healed with the help of a passionate physical therapist which may have inspired his current work here at VCU. Forced to change career fields and became a ground radar technician, Phillip took to his new role ready to serve with the same indomitable spirit he shows today.
Philip spent nearly two years in training and another two performing the complex duties of Ground Radar Maintenance. It was here that he gained many of the skills he uses today as a student or in Phillips own words, “Honestly, [military life] was very similar to student life, I was going to school for 2 years, and I lived in a dorm, had roommates…” When asked about his life in the military, he responded enthusiastically, “I sure as hell wouldn’t have as many great stories, and I wouldn’t have been on as many adventures” and one can only imagine the misadventures he got into. In his last year of the Air force he started college with 18 credits while serving full time to transition to VCU! Phillip was proud to serve, but just like SOCAL the military gave him the means to move forward and do great things in life.
Hit the ground running
Soon after leaving the military Philip decided that, instead of waiting for school to start from the comfort of his couch, he’d hike the Appalachian Trail. After his long distance hike, he joined VCU in 2015 as a double degree major, majoring in both HPEX, Health Physical Education and Exercise Science, and Psychology. Shortly after he joined the Student Veterans Association he quickly became the president.
As president of the Student Veterans Association Phillip’s duties include hosting and organizing events from Veteran’s Day Barbeques, trips to the river, volunteer events, canned food drives, facilitating communication between lawmakers, and engaging veterans and their needs. He does this all with a full course load ranging from 16-19 credits each semester. Additionally, Phillip actively encourages students to participate in research studies at VCU and through the lab has been a participant himself in several studies.
For Phillip, being the president of one student organization isn’t enough. He is also the men’s captain of the VCU run club. Philip believes that running has helped give him the motivation and support he needs to succeed here at VCU. All of these things are made possible by Phillips passion and need for community and comradery.
No man is an island
You could know Phillip your whole life and never know how deep his connection to his church and faith is. Phillip does not wear his faith on his sleeve; he chooses to show his faith in action instead. Several days of the week Phillip spends his time as a mentor for his churches’ youth group. He plays basketball and mentors children at church through support sessions where children are asked to give their “ups,” an expression which means recounting their ups and downs for the week. In many ways Phillip is counselor and a positive role model for the children of Heights Church in Glen Allen. Phillip believes in a need for all of us to have support systems and a sense of community, especially children. He emotionally stated how he feels about some of his experiences as a youth mentor “These problems that as an adult that we think are so small and so little, that can be someone’s world.” He feels that these children need “a place where they can come and talk about their problems”
When asked about his memories of the military Philip gave none. He wouldn’t isolate them down to individual days or events but instead stated that he remembers “a photo montage of me and my buddies.” So strongly is his belief in community that this is how he chooses to remember his life in the military. Philip doesn’t think that his church community or any of his organizations on campus are “just on Sunday,” instead he believes that “You need people on that Monday thru Saturday and that’s what we offer for the youth.”
Philip shares an experience that we all have as veterans, a common understanding and shared experience. In many ways veterans speak their own language forged in their time in service. Philip misses “the brotherhood” which he described as “no matter if you don’t like someone or not, when you share a uniform, there’s an amount of respect you have for that person… no matter how different we are, we are all working for a common goal.”
Phillip doesn’t think of himself as a go getter that takes charge of these organizations. Instead he sees himself serving them just like he has since becoming an airmen. He thinks that Military Student Services and the SVA have been integral to his needs here on campus. MSS offers veterans and dependents a space to work, study, and have access to resources, “a place where [we] can come and talk about [our] problems,” according to Phillip and I would have to agree.
Advice for students
Philip believes that one of the best things a young man can do if he is lost or confused after high school is to join the military. He posits a question to teens entering adulthood “You don’t know what you’re doing with your life? Don’t spend two years and 20,000 dollars figuring out who you are! You might not even enjoy it, but I promise you, you’ll have a life experience.” He believes that joining the military answers two common questions young college students have; Why am I hear, and How am I going to pay for this? To those of us whom are here at VCU, he offered a bit more advice.
That advice came in the form of a quote by the late great Winston Churchill, stating “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.” He believes that we need to remember this sentiment when thinking about our schoolwork and our community. As if that weren’t enough, Phillip challenges us to do even more than the late Churchill. He proclaimed that he doesn’t believe in the word best, “Best is something I keep out of my vocabulary, best is future tense, because the moment you accept something as your best, you’ve accepted that you can’t get better.”
At the time of writing, Phillip is driving to North Carolina because he finagled a 90$ flight to California for the week. Always on the move and always looking for an adventure Phillip is certainly the role model needed for Heights church and maybe for students here at VCU. I’m not sure if I ever want to try to do as much as Phillip Gandhi, but I’m sure that we can all strive to do better as students and members of our community.
- Written by Michael Scott