Military takes art teacher out of classroom; deploys him at southern border


Sarah Naccarato

Students hold goodbye celebration with Mr. Boyles before he was deployed as part of the PA National Guard.

Shaler Area high school’s art department may appear rather small, but it is filled with supportive and creative faculty, including studio art teacher Mr. David Boyles. Since October of last year, Mr. Boyles has been out of the building working with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as the Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs in support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Southern border security mission.

The day prior to Boyles’ departure from Shaler, he spent his classes celebrating with students and saying his farewells. Knowing Mr. Boyles will not return until the next school year, seniors he has taught over the years took their opportunity to say goodbye one final time.

Whether remembering him for his excitement in student artwork and artistic passion, corny jokes, or laughter in the art halls, many students gathered hoping to have a joyful last day. Through some tearful remarks, Mr. Boyles parted ways with some students for the last time.

Since then, he has been spending his time deployed supporting the Customs and Border Protection’s mission along the Southwest border. His time away is not just time away from his students, but he has also been away from his family and friends.

“The sacrifices I have to make—and a lot of the brothers and sisters in arms have to make throughout the globe—is a heavy one, no matter where they are going or what mission they are doing. Leaving my family, leaving the school, leaving my job, the students I deeply love is difficult but if it is not me, it would be somebody else’s brother, father, mother, sister,” Mr. Boyles said. “That burden of responsibility and service is something that I signed up for when I was eighteen. I feel obligated to protect our constitutional rights, our freedoms, and our ability to live that way that we live in America.”

In this harsh transition from an art teacher to working along the border, there are many different stories. Boyles tries to focus some media attention on the more positive aspects of their mission, but there are still many eye-opening realities that can’t be ignored.

The humanitarian crisis is just overwhelming. Seeing these families and the strain and the difficulties that they go through to get here is very surprising to me, and it’s very hard to understand that until you see it in real life.

— Mr. David Boyles

“The humanitarian crisis is just overwhelming. Seeing these families and the strain and the difficulties that they go through to get here is very surprising to me, and it’s very hard to understand that until you see it in real life,” he said. “The reality of this experience is so overwhelming; that part effected me more than I was prepared for, but it is important to maintain border security and the safe, orderly, and humane processing of migrants.”

As immigration has become forefront in news, there is a wide variety of conversations happening with a multitude of differing opinions on how the United States should handle new migrants arriving. As a public affairs officer, Mr. Boyles’ main job is to promote the US Military’s efforts to aid The Department of Defense’s mission-enhancing support enables Customs and Border Protection to address security challenges and conduct their law enforcement mission more efficiently along the Southern border.

“Different media groups contort and skew the news to what they decide is necessary for the storyline they are trying to portray. It’s not wrong, it’s just the way that they do it. We just want to portray the military as a service-based industry…So for news, we try to give them good news stories and make sure that they see the good work that is being done in the community from us.”

In an age of biased or inaccurate news, political division, and tension in our country, a big aspect of Mr. Boyles’ job is to shine a light on the positive work that is involved within the mission.

“I focus on the the soldiers throughout the area of operation. I make it my goal to honor their story, honor what great work they’ve done. We’ve had (to perform water rescues) multiple times throughout this mission where people were in desperate need of assistance and the service members reacted and helped,” he said.

In addition to their duties related to their mission, he spoke about people who have taken time beyond their mandatory duty to commit to volunteer at their stationed locations.

“We try to better the civilian area that we live in. We have over 50 soldiers committed to civil service because they chose to do so on top of their mission requirements. They go and work at places like Children’s Hospital as a volunteer. They go and work at humanitarian aid areas as a volunteer. When they see a need, they react,” he said. “I have a soldier who works directly for me. Today, she’s working at Children’s Hospital because she sees the humanitarian crisis that’s happening in the area and there are children that are in the care of the children’s hospital.”

Boyles’ mission continues, working with communities to better these situations and make the best of such a pressing issue. He is scheduled to return in October, though the mission of the Department of Homeland Security will continue.

Until Boyles returns home, he left his students with a letter of some words of wisdom.

“Three words of advice: see the world as much as you are able; acquire education in life and the books, gain wisdom and take advantage of every moment on this earth, good or bad. All experiences are learning opportunities to grow and flourish in them. Stay strong in intelligence and the body, embrace your values, and keep an honor-bound attitude,” Mr. Boyles wrote to his students.

Towards the end of the letter, Mr. Boyles wrote a final remark.

“Good luck at whatever venture you plan on pursuing; it is a beautiful journey ahead of you. Chase your dreams with a fervent passion. Be adventurous, ambitious, intrepid, be careful, but don’t be afraid.”