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Thursday, May 27, 2004 02:41 am

Back on the job

Most guys might have a tough time transitioning from the rank of captain, commanding more than 150 soldiers, to plain old officer, commanding only a dog. But for Jeff Royer, nothing could be sweeter than relief from the incomprehensible stress of keeping his troops safe in a land of suicide bombers and war without rules.

Royer, commanding officer of the 233rd Military Police Company of the Illinois National Guard, returned to his old job at Springfield Police Department this week after 13 months in Iraq. He and two fellow SPD officers who are also members of the 233rd spent this week at the police academy, completing various re-certification courses in preparation for returning to their regular jobs.

"It's nice to just be Jeff again," Royer says, even though he is now out-ranked, at least in seniority, by some of the men who were just lowly enlistees in Iraq.

"It is a bit strange, but it has everything to do with these guys being professional enough to understand the difference and respect it," he says.

Of course, Royer's SPD partner still considers him top dog. As a canine officer, Royer had to leave his German shepherd, Lux, in the SPD kennel. "He seemed excited to see me," Royer says. "I really couldn't understand what he was saying, but it wasn't like, 'who are you?' "

Humble about his leadership role, Royer has nothing but praise for the troops he commanded in Iraq. They helped repair several schools and collect supplies for the students, and generally tried to practice "community policing" while patrolling Baghdad.

"There weren't many Humvees in my unit that didn't carry soccer balls to give to the kids," he says. "We did a lot of good work, really getting in there and helping people, not just giving it lip service."

The compliments heaped on the 233rd by embedded journalists (see "Wrong moves, right moves," Illinois Times, Sept. 18) reflect on the soldiers, not just him, Royer says. "I think every commander would like to say that his unit performed well because of his leadership, but I'm not so naïve," he says. "I give credit to them because they really did just a great job. They're a great bunch of soldiers."

As for that other MP unit stationed at Abu Ghraib prison, Royer has no comment. "I don't want to make any observation on that unit," he says. "I will say my unit and other units are doing a lot of good work over there."

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