By Spc. Leith Edgar,
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
CAMP RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq – You're closing on your first home, you're expecting your first-born child and you're about to deploy to Iraq for your first deployment. Not to mention, you're no longer in the military. You work in marketing for a Fortune-500 company.
This is precisely the situation Capt. Chris Boyer, team leader, Civil Affairs Team A, from CA Team C, 489th CA Battalion, faced one morning when he opened his mailbox to find the correspondence any veteran on inactive ready reserve status dreads most: a go-to-war-or-go-to-jail letter.
This might be too much for a typical person, but Boyer, who is a native of Warren, Mich., is not your typical Soldier.
He truly is a team player, said Lt. Col. James W. Phillips, squadron commander, 361st Cavalry Squadron, 2nd Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
"He's a critical part of the team," Phillips said of his CA team leader. "Because he is so entrenched in the community, he is able to create more effects than just his one lane – that's part of being on a team."
Now going on nine months deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Boyer understands the challenge coalition forces face, Phillips said.
According to Phillips, Boyer possesses a "clear, concise understanding" of the problem: the Iraqi people's inability to solve their issues.
"The problem isn't they don't have water. They don't have essential services. They don't have a government," Phillips said. "That is not the problem. The problem is they don't know how to fix them."
Phillips said the answer is to show Iraqi leaders how to address issues in their communities and take on the problems themselves.
"Now we're trying to get them to help themselves," Phillips explained. "Instead of Capt. Boyer going out there and fixing their problem, he is coaching them through how to fix (it). So they will have muscle memory and know how to fix their problems."
Rather than material items that fade over time, Boyer stressed the importance of working on "long-term developing initiatives," which will endure long after coalition forces leave Iraq, he said.
To this end, Boyer works with the local councils (nahias) to build rapport. Out on patrol, he strikes up conversations with the Iraqi people, even if it is just small talk.
He works with the populace, he said, "All the way up to, 'Can you show me exactly where your issues are?' 'Show me what's going on.' That's how you build their trust and confidence and from there (we) try to alleviate the problems through U.S. money or the ultimate goal, Iraq's (money).
"That's what we're at right now," Boyer said. "We're at that transition from U.S. money to Iraqi money, American systems to Iraqi systems."
Boyer himself has undergone a transition of his own over the last year, leaving his civilian occupation in marketing to become a civil affairs team leader for the first time.
"I did two years as a global product manager for a Fortune-500 company. I worked in marketing, mergers and acquisitions, and business development – a lot of different lines throughout the entire marketing program," the resident of Natick, Mass., said. "I flew around the world, talked with a lot of surgeons and people who did not speak English, sometimes with an interpreter, sometimes without."
Prior to a career in marketing, Boyer was a field artillery officer for five years, after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1999.
"I was one of those, door-kicking-combat-arms-kind of guys. My whole goal in field artillery; the whole mission is to shape the battle field for the maneuver command, using lethal and non-lethal fires," Boyer said. "My transition to this was pretty easy. When you think about CA, we're shaping the maneuver space for the maneuver commander by using civil military operations. Rather than shooting rockets or cannons at the enemy, I'm working in the civilian populace to shape that battlefield."
Though Boyer took a break from active-duty service, he said his experience in the civilian sector made him a more effective Soldier on the battlefield.
"The civilian skills that I was able to maintain really set me up for success because you have to go in, read the people, understand what their needs and wants are, understand their background – where they come from - and then find a way to relate with those people. From there, bring in whatever assets we need to bear on whatever their situation is," Boyer said.
"CA is kind of a misnomer. CA is all about being a human being – understanding the populace, understanding the people and understanding your customer, which is ultimately marketing and sales," said Boyer. "When you talk to these people, they all want a better future for their children. Nobody wants a worse future for their children. That's something you have a real tie to them."
Just like many Iraqis, Boyer, too, would like a better future for his 2-month-old son, he said.
"I was home when he was born. I think I spent ten days with him," Boyer said of his first-born child. "I got to see him there for ten days and enjoy him. Then I get to come back and miss the first six months of the kid's life. I miss the not being on a schedule and the not sleeping through the night."
Though being deployed has not always been easy, Boyer said he maintains a positive outlook on the experience.
"I'm not going to say it was a seamless transition. A lot of things could have gone better. I was one day from closing on my first house and my wife just had our first kid. I thought I was done with the Army, but I don't regret it at all," Boyer said. "That's what I want to look back on, see that you made a difference and your time over here just wasn't spent for no reason away from your family."
This work, Making a difference: CA team leader sacrifices to serve again, by SPC Leith Edgar, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.