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Larned's Perez recalls Bosnia deployment
Phil Perez
Phil Perez

LARNED — Of the decorations First Sgt. Phil Perez has received in commendation of his military service, one stands out.

“My St. Barbara medal is my favorite,” he said. “St. Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen.”

The Honorable Order of St. Barbara is reserved for those who have displayed exceptional professional competence and significant contributions to the field artillery, in the tradition of its patron saint.

“In warfare’s early days, artillerymen often encountered cannon misfires, muzzle bursts, and weapon explosions. Artillery crews turned to St. Barbara for protection. She has been protecting artillerymen for hundreds of years and has become part of the Field Artillery’s heritage,” Perez noted.

Perez’s final deployment in 1996 took him to Sarajevo, Bosnia, when his National Guard Target Acquisition (Radar) Battery, 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery Regiment based in Great Bend participated in Operation Joint Endeavor. The operation was part of a multinational Implementation Force peacekeeping effort comprised of NATO and non-NATO military forces deployed to Bosnia in support of the Dayton peace accords.

Perez’s unit was tasked with monitoring and reporting artillery-based violations of the accords by use of high tech surveillance cameras.

Upon his return home, he was invited to join the local VFW post, taking his turn as Commander and currently serves as Post Quartermaster. He has been the funeral Firing Party coordinator for both the National Guard and VFW for the past 30 years.

Meanwhile, the banner for the Great Bend-based Battery E (Target Aquisition) 161st Field Artillery unit was “cased” in July 2015, meaning that after 27 years, the 161st was deactivated.

Personal profile 

Phillip Eugene Perez was born July 6, 1948 to Raymond G. and Betty J. (Young) Perez at Gleason Hospital in Larned.

He attended grades 1-5 at L’Dora Grade School at the Frizell Station in Pawnee County, then grades 6-8 at Sacred Heart Parochial School. After graduating from Larned High School in 1966, he attended one year of college at the University of Kansas and one year at Fort Hays State University. Later,  in 1985, he received an associate degree from Barton Community College.

Perez was inducted into the U.S. Army with basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and advanced training at Fort Lewis, Wash., as a light weapons infantryman. 

His first and only unit assignment was to a tank unit in Ft. Riley, which was deployed to Germany for a Cold War exercise named “REFORGER.” The unit returned to Ft. Riley where he finished his enlistment and was separated on June 11, 1970 as a Specialist E5. He had another two years of active reserve duty which he spent with the USAR unit in Great Bend.

Back in Larned, he worked in his dad’s shop, joined civic and hobby organizations, and served as a driver of the John Schnack Express. 

He married local schoolteacher Susan Ann Nannels at Sacred Heart Church on June 1, 1974.

In 1976, he enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard and served with the same unit until his retirement in 2003. In 1979, his battalion commander charged him with running the Larned Armory, which he did until 2003.

He served as a guest instructor for the National Guard Professional Education Center in Little Rock, Ark., from 1985-95 while rising in rank. 

His unit was then mobilized for duty in Bosnia with Perez as First Sergeant.