Zachary Iscol ’97 receives the 2017 John Phillips Award

Combat-decorated former Marine Corps officer was honored for his efforts to help veterans gain access to quality mental health care and employment.

Melanie Nelson
October 29, 2017
Zachary Iscol ’97 Receives the 2017 John Phillips Award for Helping American Veterans Reclaim Their Minds and Lives

"I'm fortunate that in my life I found myself surrounded by remarkable people with vital missions,"  said Zachary Iscol at assembly. Watch Iscol's acceptance remarks above.

For his tenacity and compassion in helping post-9/11 military veterans secure cost-, stigma- and bureaucracy-free mental health care as well as meaningful employment, combat-decorated former Marine Corps officer Zachary J. Iscol ’97 was honored with the 2017 John Phillips Award at a special assembly on Friday, October 27.

Iscol, who has previously given two assembly talks, in 2008 and 2015, served for six and a half years in the United States Marine Corps, including two tours of Iraq. For his bravery in combat during the Second Battle of Fallujah, during which he led a combined unit of 30 American and 250 Iraqi National Guard troops, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

Upon departing the Marines in 2008, Iscol went on to write, produce and direct a film about his wartime experiences and then to found Hirepurpose, a business that helps transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses find fulfilling careers with top American companies.

In 2012, in direct response to the growing rate of suicide among members of his own 3rd Battalion, Iscol, in partnership with the Weill Cornell Medical Center, launched Headstrong, a non-profit whose mission is to remove barriers to mental health treatment for post-9/11 military veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma and other forms of mental illness. Since its inception, Headstrong has treated some 450 veterans and now offers services in eight American cities.

In accepting his honor, Iscol was at turns humorous, self-deprecating and plaintive. He reflected on how friendships at Exeter widened his world view and later helped him to establish trust with the Iraqi villagers among whom he and the members of his platoon lived. When describing his post-military endeavors, he harked back to Harkness: “The times in my life when I’ve been most successful are when I’ve had co-founders or have been part of a bigger team.”

Inaugurated in 1965 at the behest of the Academy Trustees and the Executive Committee of the General Alumni Association, the John Phillips Award recognizes and honors Exonians whose lives and contributions to the welfare of community, country and humanity exemplify the nobility of character and usefulness to society that John and Elizabeth Phillips sought to promote in establishing the Academy.