The force took his right leg, but Casey never lost consciousness while on the battlefield. Retaining command of the men under his leadership, Casey remained alert and responsive. Now in rehabilitation, he has undergone six surgeries in eight days and enjoys the company of family.
A solider in the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., Casey is described by his older brother, Fite Howell Casey IV, as a "leader" and "go-getter." Phillips Casey graduated from Adairsville High School in 2004, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006 and made his first deployment to Iraq in 2007.
"Everything in his life, he's just been a natural born leader. He's always got a positive aspect and he's 100 percent go. He only has one speed and he's focused; if he sets his mind to something, he's going to get it done. Nothing physical has ever slowed him down," Fite Casey said.
From a hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Phillips Casey said little about his own situation beyond the extent of his injuries. His right leg was amputated above the knee, shrapnel damaged his left calf, he has burns on his back and an injury to his thumb -- but his thoughts are still thousands of miles away with the soldiers of 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne.
"It's a different world. It's really amazing, you create a family," Casey said, adding that two soldiers in his platoon were hit by IEDs in the 24-hours after his injury, one of them fatally. "My platoon, right now, I know all my guys, I know everybody in there. They're still walking, right now, through that area, they're walking through that hole. They're walking right around it and through the blood stains, half of them still probably have blood stains on their assault packs. And they're still fighting."
In his second deployment and his first in Afghanistan, Casey lost his best friend, Sgt. Kyle Stout, in July followed by 1st Lt. Todd Weaver in September. The post to which Casey was assigned now bears Stout's name.
Casey described his friend and the events that led him to the final outpost of his tour.
"He was a hard charger, he was a warrior and I volunteered. I wanted to go. I was in Bravo and I wanted to go to HBB and I wanted to take over his guys. They needed somebody, they didn't have any NCOs," Casey said. "I went out there and I got assigned to a squad and we started fighting. I was a foot and a half away from my [first lieutenant] when he stepped on an IED and he died of his wounds. As we progressed and took more ground, the next ground we took we named after him, Strongpoint Weaver, and that's where I was fighting out of and that's where I was living the night that I actually hit the IED myself."
Casey feels strongly about the mission they were sent to fulfill, the accomplishments they made and the people he has met.
"In the area we're in, we set the population free, and that was our job -- our main goal -- and we did that. And they're still doing it and they're fighting for it every day," Casey said. "The people come up to you and they thank you and they shake your hand. They tell you that they haven't farmed these fields in five years and that we've set them free. They want us to stay and they want us to kill the Taliban and they want to help kill the Taliban. I saw that transition. I saw people get to work."
Casey sees a discrepancy in what happens overseas and what is seen on TV. Where he fought in Afghanistan is not a desert, instead the landscape is dotted with grape furrows, pomegranate orchards and forests. He has gotten to know locals and shared tea with residents of the region they patrol.
His brother, Fite Casey, also had misconceptions of how operations were conducted and was surprised to find how a combat patrol actually operates and what they face daily in Afghanistan.
"They're patrolling an area just a couple square miles. They've been there eight or nine months and they've had a couple casualties just in that small area. That kind of puts it into perspective what these guys are facing. I don't think many people realize that -- I certainly didn't. You think, seven or eight football fields and these guys have been there nine months grinding it out day-in and day-out and they're still fighting. It's hard to imagine, I know it was for me," Fite Casey said.
Phillips Casey is remaining positive about the recovery ahead. With at least another month in the hospital and additional intense physical rehabilitation at a residential program to follow, plans to marry fiancé Natasha Martin in May are now uncertain. Together they have an 19-month-old daughter, Raegan. His mother Margaret Martin-Casey and sister Mary Elizabeth Casey have also joined him in Texas as he recovers.
Already able to move his left leg and sit up in bed without assistance, Casey is advancing well with his recovery. The family extends gratitude to their church family at Adairsville Baptist for prayer support during this time.
From Brooke Army Medical Center, Casey prepared a statement and asked that it be delivered to convey his sentiment concerning the situation:
"Being a soldier, a warrior, a squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division is a daunting task. The enemy changed tactics quickly as we started defeating them. New enemy fighting styles are going to require limbs, lives, soldiers in order to combat them, but the truth is, as pawns in a chess game played by generals, we know the sacrifice had to be made. The enemy beat me on March 9 when I stepped on an IED on a dismounted combat patrol, but my sacrifice can save a life. Thanks to God, my amazing family and the fine institutions who took care of me, I'll get better and, through faith, will continue to strive for excellence in whatever I do."