Purple Heart Recipient Thrives in Newest Mission to Earn Degree

Phillip Lim

U.S. Marine Corps Tank Commander Phillip Lim traded teaching 18-year-olds how to use M1A1 main battle tanks at Fort Benning to now learning with them at Marymount California University.

But the transition has gone well for Lim, a 29-year-old business and entrepreneurship major from Wichita, Kansas.

“I am significantly older than the other undergraduates, but I think they enjoy having me in class,” he says. “I let them know I am a veteran and not a typical undergraduate.”

Lim is far from a typical student. In fact, college wasn’t even a part of his plan originally.

He wanted to be a tanker. The armored, fighting kind designed for combat, like those he had played with as a kid. Joining the Marines would help him realize a childhood dream and follow what he believed was a higher calling.

His mom, though, who works as a nurse at the local VA hospital, was understandably apprehensive. So Lim signed up with his best friend in the buddy program, an option that enables friends from the same area to enlist and train together. Even when his friend had second thoughts, Lim carried on, enlisting with the Marines in 2011.

That resolve proved advantageous years later on his first mission to Afghanistan in 2013. He and Eric Targon ’18, who would later become one of his best friends and an MCU grad, were the new unit coming in to ride along with the crew they would be relieving in a process called “right seat, left seat.” Introductions had barely been made when they hit an improvised explosive device, destroying their tank and injuring all inside. The most critical was air lifted to Germany with internal bleeding. While all would survive, they were forever changed. Lim concedes the trauma is more than bone deep.

He would receive the Purple Heart for that day, a hallowed military honor that recognizes those wounded or killed in combat.

It’s not easy for him to talk about. “You wear it for the ones who can’t wear it,” he says, acknowledging those who receive it posthumously.

After eight years in the service and some serious recruiting by his bestie, Lim enrolled at MCU, where he has thrived, finding success by using the discipline learned from his tours of the Middle East. He has made the Dean’s List multiple times, participated in extracurricular activities like Servi Mundi, a business academic society, and Rotaract, a community service organization with roots in Rotary International, and served as president of the Student Veterans Organization.

His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. G.I. Jobs magazine honored Lim with the 2020 Student Veteran Leadership Award, one of 48 bestowed on current student veterans across the country.

“Phillip has been instrumental in bridging the gap between student veterans and the general student body. He has done informational campaigns on the history of military branches on their respective birthdays, he has organized and run our organizational meetings and events, he is reliable, and he has engaged staff and faculty who are veterans in new and exciting ways,” said Erin Nakumura, a social worker and counselor in the Student Wellness Center who nominated Lim.

The award has opened doors and expanded contact options.

“I had the opportunity to attend the Student Veterans of America conference in Los Angeles, giving me the chance to network with students from across the country,” he said.

Lim, who is studying remotely this semester at his family’s home in Kansas because of the pandemic, is on track to receive his degree in December. He then plans to pursue a Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) degree at the University of Southern California, a program designed to leverage the management and leadership experience already gained during military service.

In the meantime, the budding entrepreneur is already working on his business plan and hopes to start an enterprise that will allow veterans to transition from a long-term military career to civilian life. He envisions the business helping veterans apply their military experience and knowledge to the civilian workplace.

The first-generation American also would like to be involved with politics, advocating for immigrants and for veterans.

For now, Lim is volunteering at a local VA and has recently joined a combat veteran motorcycle association. He also would like to help attract more veterans to Marymount.

“A lot of veterans are like me, apprehensive to leave the service and return to school,” he said.  “I want to be an example for them.”