Bronze Star recipient Phillip Hosp’s path to the law went through Iraq
Published in 2020 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
on June 9, 2020
Updated on June 18, 2020
Phillip Hosp is the first to admit he wasn’t the best cadet in the ROTC at Boston University. “I was good at enjoying the social aspects of college,” he says, “but not at pretending to be a soldier.”
9/11 changed all that.
“It recalibrated the experience you were going into,” he says. “Instead of being about my own personal growth and adventure, it became about serving your country in a time of war.”
Hosp trained to become an armored tank officer at Fort Knox. Tanks, he says, “have an awesome force. Firing the main gun, the metal of the recoil, is an unbelievable experience. If you are out of the hatch, you can feel the blast on your face as the fireball forms at the end of the gun tube. It’s completely addictive.”
Assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division as a lieutenant, Hosp arrived in Kuwait just after his company had set off for the front lines without him. He volunteered to lead a group of civilian supply vehicles so he could catch up to them.
“I had a powerful sense of needing to be with my men,” he says. “I ended up loving the camaraderie and the guys I was serving with. It was a broad swath of people I’d never have been exposed to if I’d stayed in Pasadena or followed the traditional trajectory of a guy with a business degree.”
A platoon leader in charge of four tanks and 15 men, he was confronted with command issues almost immediately. “The platoon sergeant had 16 years’ experience,” he says. “You are technically in charge, but you have no experience and the question you face is do you let the sergeant lead? For a lot of people that is a tough decision, because if they are not comfortable with themselves, they feel they have to project a leadership quality. For me, it was an easy call—you do what’s right and logical for your guys.”
In his first battle, Hosp was in a Humvee ordering his troop’s movement when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded near the vehicle.
“I remember having this weird, surreal feeling of being incredibly incensed someone was trying to kill me,” he says. “Then all the training kicks in and you worry about your guys. Your safety is contingent on other people being safe and your unit functioning.”
In April 2005 an IED explosion went off as he was riding in a Humvee down a main supply route through a market. Several Iraqi Army soldiers were injured. “I got on the radio and began coordinating the evacuation,” he says. “And someone in my truck pointed out a car parked next to us—the only parked car on that busy street.” Hosp ordered his driver to move quickly across the median, and the parked car blew up. “It was an interesting experience,” he adds. “Fireballs were going off everywhere and you get amped up, but you try to consciously project a sense of calm for the guys and to help maintain situational awareness.”
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.
Hosp did two tours in a number of positions, including battalion logistics officer and second-in-command of a company. His company, known as “The Wild Bunch,” was eventually headquartered in the Baghdad Conference Palace. Because the company had acquired a large generator en route, the palace was one of the only buildings in the city with electricity and air conditioning; the State Department used it for meetings about forming the new Iraqi government. Hosp often sat in on these meetings to watch constitutional scholars debate how Iraq could form a democracy that was true to the region’s culture. “I saw these legal people talking a language I didn’t know,” he says. “If someone is doing something I don’t know, I try to figure it out.”
Though his father is a longtime attorney who now runs his own mediation firm in Pasadena, Hosp hadn’t considered the law as a career until his time in the Baghdad Conference Palace. Returning stateside in 2006, he enrolled at Loyola Law School and graduated three years later. Today he is a partner at Foley & Lardner.
It’s been 14 years since Hosp left the service, but it’s not hard to flag him as ex-military. He wears his hair short, walks with a ramrod-straight posture and speaks in a calm manner. He says not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of his experiences in the Middle East. He is on a group text with the men with whom he served, mostly talking sports and family, making arrangements to get together, and, amid the good-natured ribbing, occasionally discussing their time in the military. Foley also has a Veterans Affinity Group that focuses on the recruitment and retention of active-duty service members and veterans in positions throughout the firm.
Hosp finds a deep connection between the military and the law. “In a combat zone, you are presented with situations you can’t look up in the field manual,” he says. “You have to find the most logical and commonsense answer, which is also what you do as a litigator. The military focuses on how your decision-making is affected by other people’s decision-making, on tactic and finding the best grounds to fight on. Those are things I think about every day.”