Military News

Soldier finds calling as chaplain

"On my own I am not talented enough to do the things God has asked of me. But by his grace, I am empowered to do all he asks and requires, according to his will."

This is the heart of Capt. John Boyer. Written in 2004 while he was stationed in Iraq, the sentence in his journal is the reason the young U.S. Army chaplain volunteered to go on missions with his fellow soldiers.

It is the reason the 30-year-old is training today with the 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, to go on covert military operations as an ambassador for his faith.

That's not something the military expects of its chaplains. But for the Middleton High School graduate, going on covert operations is about the ministry of presence.

"It's being there for them when they go through all the crap," Boyer said. "It's understanding what they're going through."

His dad, retired Boise chiropractor Raymond Boyer, said he has mixed emotions about his son's plans. "But he really believes in what he is doing, and I am so proud of him for that."

Growing up with Dad

After a divorce, Randall Boyer fought for custody of then-7-year-old John and won.

"We were the two amigos," he said about the years he spent with his son before he remarried.

The single father left Middleton early to go to work in Boise each day, getting home in time to greet his son after school. "I took cookies to school. I baked them," he said.

His son said, "He put me first. He has never missed one significant moment in my life — choir, sports, airborne school, my wedding," John Boyer said. "He was my best man. He's like the world's most supportive father.

"It's kind of embarrassing," he said with a laugh. "Here I am, this 30-year-old guy, with my dad at airborne school graduation."

The family attended a Lutheran church in Caldwell. While they went frequently, it wasn't always enough for John, his father recalled.

"I remember him (John) telling me, ‘I'll be glad when I can drive so I can take myself to church and don't have to depend on you,'" Randall Boyer said.

When John was 18, father and son experienced a rift. The teen decided to go to Iowa's Northwestern College, where his older sister was living; his father expected him to go to BSU or someplace closer to home.

John Boyer recalls not talking with his father for most of a year; his dad says the interval was much shorter.

Both say it was a transitional time that was good for them. It also was a time when John found his spiritual calling, something he credits to his sister, Diana Dekok.

Following faith

The attacks on the Twin Towers Sept. 11, 2001, spurred Boyer to join the military after seminary.

"Not only do I want to serve God," he said, "but I was very patriotic. I wanted to serve my country too."

He went to Iraq and worked closely with Islamic religious leaders (imams). They talked about the similarities of their beliefs, he said.

"It was a pretty dangerous area, but after a year of meeting with them, it got safer," Boyer said. It wasn't a coincidence."

His work with Iraqi kids also was rewarding. He started a Web site that helps gather donations.

As one of the youngest chaplains in the Army at that time, Boyer was able to relate to the young men.

"It's interesting because you see these really strong guys all around you," he said. "Then you see them in their moment of need. … to see a guy so tough, and then to close the door and break down, and say ‘I miss my family.'"

Boyer's former commander, Lt. Col. (retired) Michael Baumann, said Boyer drew upon his spiritual training to help soldiers deal with what they faced in Iraq.

He also was there for Freddie Paie, an Iraqi translator whose life was in danger because of his work for the United States and because he was studying Christianity. Paie, who now lives in Minnesota, said Boyer "is the kind of man who can look in your face and tell something is wrong."

Paie said Boyer was a role model for him as a Christian. "The way he presented himself, the way he explained it, this is something you want to do."

Home and family

At one point, Boyer's office in Iraq was blown up while he was in the hallway.

"Every night I would send an e-mail home to my family, but I wasn't in there (my office) at the time," he said. "I wrote my dad — ‘I can't tell my wife this, because I don't want to scare her, but I almost got killed today.'"

Boyer said his family is the reason he can stay grounded when counseling others, or when facing dangerous situations.

Besides his dad, he says he is also very close with his mother, Rebecca, who now lives in Iowa. But his wife, Crystal, and their two children help him the most, he said. The couple also has a baby on the way.

These days, Boyer is training in Fort Campbell, Ky., with the "guys behind the scenes" — the special forces group. "These guys need religious services, too," he said. He will deploy with them when they return to the Middle East, probably early next year.

"I was hand-selected to join this group," he said. "That is why my dad is so proud of me."

Randall Boyer, who winters in Mesa, Ariz., and travels by RV the rest of the year, still connects as often as he can with his son. They share a love of the Boise State Broncos. They're meeting in Denver this weekend for a father-son tradition of watching the Denver Broncos play.

Both father and son want to live in Idaho again.

When they tire of traveling, Randall Boyer said he and his wife, Debra, hope to build a house in Middleton on six acres they own. John Boyer said he and Crystal also think about returning to his childhood home.

For now, Randall Boyer hopes his son can be with his own family as much as possible.

"His children need him, and they're going to need him in the future," he said. "I hope he can be there when he needs them. I hope it all goes the way he wants.

"I'm always 100 percent behind him."

Contact Vickie D. Ashwill at vashwill@idahostatesman.com or at 373-6691.

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