LOCAL FOLKS: Bet leads to nearly 30-year career for officer rising in the ranks

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

HUNTSVILLE, ALA. – A betting man knows losing isn’t always the worst thing in the world.
More than 30 years ago, Phillip Jolly made a bet. The East Union High School graduate was taking an elective R.O.T.C. class at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
“My instructor starting talking to me about going into the Army and asking how I planned to pay for my education,” said 51-year-old Jolly.
The instructor said Jolly could qualify for a two-year R.O.T.C. scholarship to the University of Mississippi. Jolly didn’t think his grades were good enough to get a scholarship.
“He said, ‘If I get you a scholarship, will you sign?’ I said, ‘Bet’s on,’” Jolly said. “A month later, it’s holy cow, I just joined the Army.”
The former Sherman resident graduated with a degree in journalism from Ole Miss, then became a second lieutenant in the Army. That led to a 10-year career before he left the active military and joined the Army Reserve with a plan.
“My goal was to get my 20 years in, so I could get my retirement,” he said. “That was it.”
And that remained his goal for years, even as he did whatever the mission required.
One of his commanding officers noticed that Jolly was good at his job but, frankly, didn’t appear to be having much fun.
“He challenged me to take inventory of what I was doing in the Army. He said, ‘You’re not getting rich at this. You’re not enjoying your time away from your family. Why are you doing it?’” Jolly recalled.
He took those questions home, and let them roll around in his head for a bit. The answer surprised him.
“I ended up changing my whole attitude about it,” he said. “I realized I do this because I love it. I love this stuff.”
On the civilian side of things, he works for a defense contractor in Huntsville.
“When I’m working as a civilian, I’m specifically a civilian,” he said. “I can’t use the rank at all. That would be an unfair advantage.”
For his military job, he commands the Army Reserve Sustainment Command in Birmingham. He and his team of about 750 make sure U.S. forces at home and abroad have the food, clothing, weapons and other items they need to operate.
He must do a quality job because he recently received unexpected news.
“Lo and behold, one day they called me and said, ‘You’ve been selected to become a general,’” he said. “That was the biggest shock of my career.”
In March, he was formally promoted to the rank of brigadier general, which is quite a rise for a man who lost a bet in community college.
“One day, every soldier will reach a point where you no longer get promoted, and they will tell you to go home,” Jolly said. “Until then, I’m going to do this as long as they let me. It’s the best job in the world.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com