Chris Amaker, '89: Taking the Next Step
in May 2012
After more than 23 years serving in the United States military, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Amaker, ’89, is taking the next step in his life... and he’s doing it on his own terms.
“My wife and I have reached a place in our careers where we have done almost every job we ever wanted,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “It was time for us to move out and allow some of the younger guys to move up.”
Originally from Plainfield, New Jersey, you can picture Lt. Col. Amaker chuckle and blush when he talks about the reasons he chose to come to the University of South Carolina for his education after graduating from high school.
“I wish I had some altruistic or ‘light in the sky’ moment for choosing USC,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “That year, USC was listed as the #3 'party school' in Sports Illustrated. I wanted to go to a big school and I wanted warm weather. Carolina fit all the bills for me.”
Lt. Col. Amaker was the first in his immediate family to go off to college, and he admits he did not have a clue initially as to what his major would be. Since he could not consult with anyone in his family about that type of choice, he went with what felt right.
“My first semester, I took a psychology class, and I really liked the professor and the subject,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “I spoke to the professor after class one day and asked him what psychology was all about, and he convinced me.”
Initially enrolling in the Air Force ROTC program, he later switched over to Army ROTC. While that took up much of his time outside of class, he did find time to serve as a page at the South Carolina State House. Making the adjustment from living in the Northeast to the South wasn’t too difficult, and there was one part of his Carolina experience that stood above the rest.
“It would have to be the friends I made while at Carolina,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “The guys and girls I met were so genuine. The whole idea of ‘the South being more of a caring people’ is true. The weather is an obvious difference, but I also found the people of the South to be friendlier. I learned to smile more and offer my hand to say ‘hello’ faster.”
Seeing the World While Serving
After earning his degree in 1989, he went straight into the military. His experience in the United States Army took him all over the world.
“My first duty assignment was Korea,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “It was the first time I had been out of the United States. After Korea, I have been to Fort Jackson, SC; Fort Sam Houston, TX; Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.; Fort Bragg, NC; Fort Stewart, GA; Heidelberg, Germany; and 15 months in Iraq.”
Lt. Col. Amaker met his wife, Bobbi, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, back in 1993.
“I am fortunate that my wife is also an active-duty Army officer, so we could typically move together with just a little prior planning,” says Lt. Col. Amaker, who currently serves as a health-information manager and has had numerous jobs with the Army.
“Health-information manager directors are the lynchpin between the clinical staff and administrative staff of hospitals,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “I was the HIMs director for the Army Medical Department. I managed health records, hard-copy and electronic. I set coding policy for the Army, and I performed data quality management for the Army medical department and performed data queries. If you wanted to know how many right broken arms there were in the Army, I could look at the data and tell you."
“I have worked at small clinics and large medical centers," Lt. Col. Amaker continues. "I have worked as a staff officer for generals. I have sat on jury duty in Guantanamo Bay. I have commanded a clinic in the war. The Army has afforded me many opportunities.”
Lt. Col. Amaker says the most difficult assignment was his 15 month tour in Iraq.
“I really got behind the mission we were performing, but the separation from family and my ‘norm’ took its toll,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “I was in one of the last units that did 15-month tours because they are so draining mentally. In Iraq, the best part was the bonding of the soldiers with each other. The worst was the deaths or injuries that I experienced. Death is a part of war, but you don't get used to it. Next to that tour, my most difficult was Fort Bragg. It was tough professionally, but also very rewarding. I worked some really long hours, and when I left that assignment, I was exhausted.”
In spite of some hardships, Lt. Col. Amaker explains how the ability to adapt is one of the keys to moving around to such a variety of places.
“In Korea, the best part was experiencing the culture through the eyes of some locals,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “I toured the markets and ate their typical foods. The worst part was the maddening cold. It is the coldest I have ever been in my life. In fact, whenever I refer to being cold, I use Korea in my comparison: ‘It's cold as Korea out there.’
Though Lt. Col. Amaker describes Korea as "pretty modernized,” Iraq was different, as it was a war zone.
“I did have to tour a hospital ‘outside the wire’ while I was there,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “But that is the only interaction I really had with locals outside of those working at the camps. I was safer than others and not as safe as some. I worked in hospitals in two different locations. At one location, I felt very safe. At the other, I had to be more cautious.”
Following more than 23 years in the military, Lt. Col. Amaker decided it was time for the next phase of his life, so he retired from the Army and now lives with his wife in San Antonio, TX. He is ready for what civilian life has to offer and is currently weighing his opportunities for his next job.
After traveling the globe in fatigues, Lt. Col. Amaker is thankful and still tries to make it back to campus each year to meet up with former classmates and fraternity brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi.
“My Carolina is where I grew into a man,” Lt. Col. Amaker says. “I found myself in college. I learned to prioritize what's important and how to dream of success. I learned the meaning of duty, honor, and country.”