Article written by Bruce Wood.
Dartmouth field hockey coach Amy Fowler spotted her junior captain sitting on the sideline massaging her feet before last fall’s game against Yale.
“She was like, ‘Oh, my feet are cramping up,’” said Fowler. “I said to her, ‘Well, what could be the cause of that?’”
And then Fowler laughed.
She knew exactly why Morgan Philie’s feet were giving her a problem.
And that she’s lucky she didn’t have trouble just keeping her eyes open.
A center back from West Friendship, Md., Philie is a a cadet in Dartmouth’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, a detachment of the program at Norwich University, a private military college in Northfield, Vt., that calls itself the birthplace of the ROTC. The Yale game came in the middle of a field training exercise at Norwich that saw Philie depart Hanover in the wee hours of Friday morning and not resume her normal student life until Sunday evening – with the notable exception of 70 minutes on the AstroTurf against the Bulldogs.
Philie knew she was fortunate simply to be there.
“It’s not ideal,” she said of facing a key Ivy League rival in the middle of a military exercise, “but it was a favor for them even to let me play the game, so I have to take what I can get.”
With a roster of 17 last fall, the Dartmouth field hockey team is just about the same size as the college’s ROTC roster. While Philie knew by her junior year at Glenelg High School that she wanted to wear a field hockey uniform in college, the two-time member of the Maryland all-state first team never saw herself in a military uniform at the same time.
Not even with brother, Mathieu, a West Point athlete.
“When I was looking at schools he was in his sophomore and junior year of college,” she said. “I saw that and thought, ‘Nope, not for me. No way. I’m not doing any of that.’
“It’s not something that’s in our family or anything, but my brother was recruited for golf and ended up loving it. He was perfectly suited for the military. I didn’t think I was.”
After being chosen to the Harrow Sports/NFHCA High School All-America third team at Glenelg, Philie systematically whittled away a list of top schools offering field hockey and well-regarded STEM programs and Dartmouth bubbled up to the top.
“I got down to the top 15 or so and did field hockey camps, tried to talk to coaches and then visited schools to see what I liked,” she explained. “I hadn’t heard much of anything about Dartmouth but when I visited I loved it the first time I stepped on the campus. I loved the field hockey program and how much of a family it was. It just seemed like a really good fit for me.”
Between Mathieu’s appreciation for his experience at West Point and the lack of athletic scholarships at Dartmouth, Philie’s parents suggested she at least consider exploring the ROTC scholarship option. To her surprise, she found herself intrigued.
“The more I learned the more I understood what kind of opportunities ROTC can provide,” she said. “I realized it offered a chance to broaden my perspective and my horizons, and would allow me to push my limits.”
ROTC would certainly make footing the bill for an Ivy League education easier. Broaching the idea to Fowler was a little harder.
“When I was recruited it was kind of slipped in there that, Yeah, I might also do this ROTC thing, but I’m not sure about it,” Philie said. “She said she never had a player do that before, but it didn’t stop them from recruiting me. I actually have her to thank, because a lot of coaches wouldn’t want their player taken out from their team, to go be on this other team.”
With Fowler’s blessing Philie decided to go for it.
“I ended up applying for the ROTC scholarship right before senior year of high school,” she said. “I went through the whole process and found out at the end of winter that I got a four-year scholarship. I knew it was going to be hard but it was fun seeing things come together.”
Philie’s ROTC commitment during the academic calendar has expanded each year.
As a freshman she had one hour of military science class per week in addition to a two-hour military lab on Thursdays from 6:30 until 8:30 a.m. Her status as a varsity athlete fulfilled her physical training requirement.
As a sophomore year she had two hours of military science in addition to the early lab. This year she has three one-hour military science classes a week in addition to the lab.
Being anywhere other than in bed at 6:30 a.m. is unusual for a college student. Doing what she’s doing at that hour is a lot more unusual.
“The labs are learning different military tactics,” she explained. “They are more hands-on, in-the-field lessons. As a junior your responsibility is to teach those labs. You are basically teaching the ones and twos, freshmen and sophomores, everything you’ve learned so far doing the labs for the last two years.”
Given the small number of ROTC students at Philie stands out on campus when she’s walking to or from the detachment’s headquarters in Leverone Field house, but even more so elsewhere on campus.
“My freshman year because, we have to be in uniform for ROTC classes, I wouldn’t have time to change between that and my French class or something,” she said. “I would walk in with my ACU’s (Army Combat Uniform) on and take my cover (hat) off and get some stares. But mostly people just looked down at their desk.
“ROTC used to be very foreign to anyone I tried to talk to about it. As I have progressed in the program I’ve been able to help the people around me learn more about it.”
She’s also been able to help the field hockey program in a big way.
As a junior she tied for the team lead with seven goals, was tops on the roster in shots on goal and second in points. Although it wasn’t her best game, she even scored a goal during her busman’s holiday marching up and down the field against Yale.
“She became a pretty significant starter right halfway through her freshman fall,” said Fowler. “She was a right back and really solidified her spot in our defense. She’s really strong and powerful with a good aerial and a big hit.
“She’s not a flashy player but brings a ton of composure and steady, solid defensive play. She brings a good leadership component, not just leading by example. She is just a kid who gets it.”
It’s both surprising and not surprising that Philie was chosen as a team captain as a junior.
“That was definitely a little daunting at first with three seniors on the team,” she said. “I didn’t really know how to approach it at first but now I am very comfortable in the role. I’ve been able to take a lot of what I’ve learned through ROTC leadership training and transfer it over to people who aren’t soldiers.”
Combining military training and studies with field hockey and, oh by the way, an Ivy League major in computer science keeps her plenty busy. But she even finds a way to enjoy a little bit of normal student life.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you have the time to do anything?’ You would think I don’t have a social life, but you have to you would drive yourself into a wall,” she said. “I think it is really all about a balance. Some nights you are going to stay up until three in the morning, but then give yourself a break the next day. Sit back and go to Starbucks.
“The support of everyone around me helps me see that big picture. I think it just takes discipline to get done the things that you need to get done, and to focus on what’s most important. You need to take care of yourself and be accountable for what you said you would do.”
Philie “contracted” with the Army in the spring of her freshman year. She’ll admit that as it surely is with others, there were doubts that occasionally crept in during her early days as a cadet.
“The first few terms of the program I definitely wondered what I was getting myself into,” she said. “I think everyone has those concerns.
“I think it is really interesting how I came in, not on a whim, but pretty close to that. Now I take pride in my development as a leader, how much confidence I gained by doing ROTC, and how much leadership experience I have gained.”
Between her freshman and sophomore years Philie spent 28 days of initial training at Fort Knox. She will return to the Kentucky army post in the coming summer for advanced camp that will factor into the “accession” in a particular branch of the service.
As her season wound down Philie was uncertain on what branch she would pursue, which will determine her post-graduation military commitment.
“If I compete to get an active duty branch, then it would be roughly four years active. That depends on the branch I go to (and) the training I have to go through before I can actually start duty,” she explained. “On the other hand, I could opt out of active-duty and go Reserves or National Guard, which would be eight years. I am a computer science major so that is lining itself up to be really competitive right out of graduation.
“Either way, I am going to be a Second Lieutenant. It’s just whether I do it on weekends as my second job or full-time.”
Before that, though, there’s the matter of one more year leading Dartmouth field hockey the way she did with cramping feet before rejoining a field training exercise in the Vermont mountains. Her commitment did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Leadership, she said she learned, can be lonely and it was after the game last fall against Yale.
“She showered, put her stinky fatigues back on, got food at the tailgate and her parents drove her right back to Norwich to finish Saturday and Sunday,” said Fowler. “Her teammates all watched her walk away in fatigues that she had been wearing since crack of dawn on Friday.”