Taking Chance: Lance Corporal Chance Russell Phelps
TAKING CHANCE: LANCE CORPORAL CHANCE RUSSELL PHELPS
Chance Russell Phelps
Born: July 14, 1984 at Riverton, Wyoming
Chance Russell Phelps (July 14, 1984 – April 9, 2004) was a Private First Class in the United States Marine Corps (promoted to Lance Corporal posthumously) who served with 2nd Platoon, Battery L, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment (3/11), 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Phelps was killed in Iraq as the convoy he was escorting came under heavy fire. His story is the subject of an HBO movie, "Taking Chance". As I opened my TV set the other night, HBO as usual, I found Kevin Bacon (Lt. Col. Michael Strobl) saluting as body bags were brought down from a plane. I do not know exactly what part of the movie I am, but curiously, I was stunned by the behavior of Bacon. The film follows Lt. Col Michael Strobl, who is a Marine that works a desk job that occasionally scans the military’s casualty reports. When he comes across the name of a deceased soldier named Chance Phelps from his hometown of Clifton, Colorado, Strobl volunteers to escort his body home. Though Strobl never knew Phelps personally, he is committed to his chosen task. After he learns that Chance’s body is actually going back to his family in Wyoming, the film centers entirely of Strobl’s care and dedication to getting the fallen soldier’s body back to his loved ones. He salutes very slowly every time the casket goes by from the plane to the car that makes everyone present stands in silent offering their respects.
Phelps graduated from Palisade High School in 2003. He was motivated to join the Marines by the events of September 11, 2001. After attending recruit training at MCRD San Diego, he attended artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was finally assigned to 3/11, with which he deployed in February 2004.
Phelps was killed in action at approximately 13:30 on April 9, 2004, outside Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Phelps's unit was conducting convoy escort (including the assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division, Brigadier General John F. Kelly) when they came under heavy small arms fire, including rocket-propelled grenades. Despite being wounded, he refused to be evacuated, and instead manned his M240 machine gun (also reported to have been a M2 .50 caliber machine gun) to cover the evacuation of the rest of his convoy. Upon withdrawal, he sustained his fatal wound to the head.
The body of Marine Phelps was served in a close casket. Personal belongings of dead soldiers or marines were all accounted for, cleaned up, brushed and even polished. Diver’s watches, dog-tags, bracelets and a small wooden cross were kept safely by the escort, Lt. Col. Strobl, whose accounts of the escort were recorded in his article he wrote entitled “Taking Chance”.
Phelps was buried in Dubois, Wyoming on April 17, 2004. In attendance were his parents, stepparents, sister, the Chief of Naval Intelligence (for whom his sister was an aide), and every veterans organization within 90 miles (140 km).
A memorial service was also held in Camp Ramadi, Iraq, by his unit, after several days. Some time after that, Chance was officially awarded a posthumous promotion to Lance Corporal.
A baseball field was constructed in Camp Ramadi was dedicated Phelps Field.
In mid-2005, a mess hall at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms was dedicated Phelps Hall, with his citation posted on a boulder in front.
Phelps is also memorialized by a rock garden at the 3/11 office and at the Dubois VFW post, as well as a plaque that travels with Battery L wherever it deploys and a battery mascot named after the Marine.
The Chance Phelps Foundation is dedicated to supporting and honoring our nation's warriors. CPF coordinates vital assistance and hosts special events, including week-long mountain camps, for warriors and their families.
Phelps was the subject of a video segment originally broadcast on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on April 20, 2004: entitled A Fallen Son. PBS ran a segment on Phelps's journey home as part of their Operation Homecoming documentary in the America at Crossroads series on April 16, 2007.
The story of Chance Phelps, as told by Lt. Col. Strobl, is also featured in the book Faces of Freedom, published in 2007.