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Mercer Grad Working with Media to Share Iraq Story
September 12, 2005

Richard L. Cameron
(478) 391-5500

(Published Monday, Sept. 12, in The Macon Telegraph)

About two decades ago, Steve Boylan was hanging out at his Mercer University fraternity and eating late-night breakfast at Denny's on Riverside Drive.

Today, he works with heads of state, the biggest names in journalism and has an office steps away from where Iraq drafted its constitution.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 43, is the director of the Combined Press Information Center, the principle source for information about foreign military activity in Iraq.

Boylan himself is probably one of the most quoted individuals about the war, having fielded as many as 100 requests in a day from reporters from all over the world. He's rubbed shoulders with network anchors and appeared on numerous South American radio shows.

"As hard as it is to be away from family and friends and things like that, I'm glad I came here," he said. "It's not often you get to see a country born, or re-born."

Boylan, who had been the public affairs chief for 8th U.S. Army in Korea, volunteered for the Iraq duty because he thought it was an important job.

He arrived here last August.

Boylan helped get the word out about the election, was there when the results were announced and facilitated news conferences concerning the constitution.

Mostly, he and his CPIC staff of 66 people handle media requests and give out information about the 28-nation coalition force.

Staff Sgt. Don Dees, who worked at two Savannah area radio stations and formerly was a fire support sergeant in the 48th Brigade's 118th Field Artillery regiment, now is a member of the CPIC staff.

Dees, 37, said Boylan has a "common-sense approach to leadership."

"He'll fight to do what's right, even in the face of leaders who need to be educated on the role of public affairs and how best to execute the mission," Dees said.

Boylan also received high marks from several journalists who have reported extensively in Iraq.

Dees said his boss has "an understanding of the nature of news and what journalists need to tell the story of what our troops are doing."

Any bona fide journalist allowed into Iraq has access to their services, Boylan said. He said the Arab news organization Al-Jazeera, often accused of having an anti-coalition agenda, calls regularly but is banned by Iraqi government.

Its inquiries are referred elsewhere, he said.

Boylan said most journalists are fair and accurate about what they report, but that the reportage on Iraq is not complete.

"I think there needs to be more stories about the troops, what they are doing ... not just the explosions that go off or the ones that are killed or wounded," he said. "There's a whole lot of good that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines are doing out in the field every day, every hour, that isn't covered."

Boylan said part of his job is to publicize the good. He said all press is "positive," as long as all sides are represented fairly and the information presented is accurate.

"People have to define what is "bad." A lot of people think that if it's a negative story, that's bad," he said. "Well, a negative story can be approached in the manner that it is still telling the story about what the unit's doing. As long as it's portrayed accurately, it's what's happened. We should be up front and honest about the good, the bad, the ugly. And that's part of our pact with America."

Boylan said he can't claim that the media at-large is against the Bush administration's efforts here, even if some anti-war views are reflected in certain reporters' writing.

"We will always have people out there who want to poke fingers, and there's just no way to get around it," he said.

Boylan also said that the media sometimes want to unfairly judge progress in the war by comparing one year's statistics to a previous year's or by setting unrealistic expectations.

"Everybody wants to see something right now. This isn't an in-and-out kind of war," he said. "The war has changed since Day 1. It's not the same Iraq we came into two years ago."

Part of what's changed, he said, is the level of danger in Baghdad. Boylan said that in January 2004, foreigners felt comfortable walking the streets, shopping and eating in restaurants.

Now most foreigners do not leave the heavily fortified International Zone without security personnel, and many wear body armor even when on the inside of the large concrete barriers that divide this government complex from the rest of the city.

Though protected by walls and guards, the IZ houses some of the insurgents' highest priority targets.

"When I first got here, we were getting rocketed and mortared daily here," Boylan said. "We've had suicide bombers make it into the International Zone. We've had car bombs go off that have knocked out the windows right out front here that actually shook this building so hard you thought it was hit."

From August to January, Boylan said, "You could hear the gun battles going off right down the street. You could watch the tracers going in and out at night. You could hear and feel the explosions."

A sniper once tried to kill Boylan at a checkpoint where he had gone to pick up a journalist, he said. But like many others who work and live in Iraq, Boylan said he's grown accustomed to being in jeopardy.

Still, he enjoys the job, even when it requires working around the clock and a full day off comes only about once a month.

"It's something new and different every day," Boylan said. "No two questions are the same that we get. No two journalists approach (questions) the same way."

Boylan had thought about becoming a chef and was on a pre-law track in his first year at Mercer. He went on to study history, political science and communications.

"(I) got involved in the ROTC more as a diversion, decided I kind of liked it," Boylan said. "Not wanting to be a reporter, I thought I'd give the Army a try. É It was one of those, 'I'll see if I like it, and when I don't like it I'll get out.' Well, I'm at 21-plus years, and I'm still in."

Boylan remembers hanging out at his fraternity house and in front of what was then known as New Man's Dorm. He said Macon was a great town for a history buff, and he'd frequently visit the Ocmulgee National Monument. Krystal burgers were another favorite.

His sister, Pam Hill, graduated from Mercer's law school and practices family law in Macon today, he said. His parents, Barbara and Lou Boylan, moved to Macon upon retirement.

Boylan is a Huey and Apache pilot who has four horses at his Wisconsin home. (He said he has his eye on an Arabian horse and two foals once belonging to Saddam Hussein, and that it would be a "pipe dream" to be able to take them home with him.)

Boylan's tour here wraps up in December. Next he'll serve as a public affairs instructor at the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Boylan said his Mercer education helped teach the value of being up-front and honest and gave him an understanding of the media.

Boylan said Mercer was the "foundation" that led him to a place like no other.
"No matter what anybody says (about the operation in Iraq), it's incredible to watch," he said. "And people all over the world don't have an appreciation for what the Iraqis and the troops that are here are going through unless they've been here."

To contact Gray Beverley, e-mail