On Wednesday, in the Bass Pro Shops at the Mesa Riverview Shopping Center, the Phillips family gathered with distant relatives in a meeting room upstairs. They had been told that a family member had won a raffle — lunch, a shopping spree and the opportunity to meet an unspecified celebrity, perhaps a country music star.

The person who walked through the door has never topped the country charts, but the family was nonetheless surprised and overjoyed to see husband, father and brother Sean Phillips had come home from Washington State and from serving in the U.S. Navy.

Phillips’ wife, Michelle, described her response as “shock.” The family gathered around him, eager to say hello and greet the returning veteran. Michelle Phillips said she had no idea he was coming. He told her he was stuck in Washington, waiting on paperwork necessary for him to leave naval service and return home.

Phillips spent eight years in the Navy, stationed away from his family in Arizona for most of that time. He served in Afghanistan as well as in other places around the U.S. and the world. Although many service members take their families with them when they are moved to a new state or abroad, the constant changes can be hard on children, and some families opt to stay put while their loved one travels. Either way, the family sacrifices a great deal.

So, when a service member returns from a deployment, or from service altogether, it is not uncommon for there to be festivities and even a carefully planned surprise or two.

Vanessa Dobbins, Phillips’ sister-in-law, along with his sister, Sarah Calhoon, helped him organize the event. They gathered family from Tucson and even as far as Ohio to come see the surprise. Phillips actually arrived back in the Valley two days before and stayed in hiding to maintain the air of mystery around the event. His family was expecting him to return sometime in the next week.

“I’m glad everybody pulled it off,” said Dobbins. Calhoon described pulling off the stunt as stressful, but exciting.

Mesa Interim Mayor Alex Finter was there to introduce Phillips, remarking he was glad to be present for the big surprise. He acted out the scene with Calhoon, congratulating her on winning the raffle and asked her who she would love to see come through the door. Of course, she knew who would be coming, but played her part perfectly to build towards the big reveal.

Sean Phillips was a Master-at-Arms second class (E-5) during his time in the service. MAs act as in-house law enforcement for the Navy. He said he hopes to trade his MA badge for a civilian police badge.

His wife said she would also like for him to go back to school. The Post 9/11 G. I. Bill affords the opportunity for former military members to attend college, as well as other learning institutions.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6581 or tgodfrey@evtrib.com

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