War images of honor - A father's tribute to a soldier son

Friday, October 22, 2004

On Monday morning, the visit was all but over. Devin Foust was at the end of his two-week visit from Iraq. Later that afternoon, his father would drive him up to the airport in St. Louis.

On Tuesday, Devin Foust would fly across the world, back to the sand, the heat and the camels, back to the National Guard 1140th Engineer Battalion, where the brothers and sisters in camouflage uniforms carry guns, drive Humvees and keep an eye out for the crooks who would try to overtake a supply truck, steal it and sell it for money.

Devin Foust would've gone back quietly, without any fanfare, without so much as a mention in the newspaper. He'd hug his mom, Katheia Corrigan, and say goodbye. That's how most military men are.

But Devin Foust's father, Alan Foust, just didn't want it that way.

Alan Foust believes that too many Americans go on with their daily lives without thinking of the young troops like his son. The typical Americans may get up and pour some cold milk in their cereal, take a hot shower and drive to work without fearing for their safety. They work their jobs, they come home and flip on the television without once thinking about the thousands of soldiers rebuilding Iraq among the stray bullets and suicide bombers.

To Alan Foust, that's just not acceptable.

Alan Foust believes more people should understand, people should see what the troops are doing over there. He believes it so much he has created a photo gallery and has invited the public to come see exactly how the personnel of the 1140th from Jackson, Cape Girardeau and Perryville are serving their country.

The gallery started out as a dark green hallway at the American Family Insurance building in uptown Jackson. Alan Foust and his wife, Janey, own the High Street Station, where Janey Foust runs an insurance office. The hallway was bare and needed a facelift anyway. So Alan Foust came up with an idea.

The gallery now consists of two parts. The first several feet of space showcase professional, blown-up prints by local photographer Charles Hutchings. Once active in the Guard, he has taken hundreds of photos of training over the years, including training photos of the 1140th troops who are now active overseas. Hutchings donated the photos for the gallery.

There are photos of young men and women performing their "sapper" training, officially called the combat engineer battle skills course. They are photos of men and women in boats, painted in camo, aiming guns. Combat engineers, like those in the 1140th, can actually be called to action ahead of the infantry. The photos show several men in an inflatable raft, floating down a small river, oars held above their heads.

There are also photos of the deployment ceremony held in early January in Perryville. The photos show troops standing in rows, shoulders back, backs straight, looking forward. The ready-for-anything posture seems natural for some of the older men who appear to be in their 30s or 40s. The hard, strong looks seems to conflict with the smooth, youthful faces that stare straight ahead.

The photos in the second part of the gallery aren't quite as sharp. They are taken with an Olympus autofocus 35 millimeter camera by a guardsman who before going to Iraq in February never had an interest in photography. Devin Foust is taking the photos for his father. His father is putting up the gallery for him. What the photos lack in details, they make up for in access. Life in Iraq appears through the eyes of a guardsman, through the eyes of a young man going through one of the most grueling periods of his life.

Through the eye of the camera, the Fousts have created a bond. During his visit back home, Devin Foust explained to his father what was happening in each photo. Now even Alan Foust has a better appreciation for what the troops are doing in Iraq.

One photo shows red-haired Sean Winstead with his eyes closed, leaning forward against the back of a Hummer after a long, hot day of work. Another photo shows Winstead's lighter side. A drummer in his church band before being deployed overseas, Winstead applied black face paint around his eyes and mouth to make an odd-looking clown face.

One print shows Matt Knoderer standing with five Iraqi children, holding a 5.56 mm machine gun.

Another shows an Iraqi child who has climbed up into a military vehicle, trying to sell Ross Gartman a bottle of Coke for a dollar.

In all, there are about 80 photos of the 1140th from Iraq in the hallway.

Devin Foust's job, and the job of most of the 1140th, is to patrol the main supply road through southern Iraq. They protect the convoy as it delivers supplies for the rebuilding of Iraq.

"We try to keep the convoys moving and keep the bad guys off the road," Devin Foust said.

This is something Alan Foust can relate to. Once a state trooper, he spent years patroling Missouri's highways.

He said his son is doing much the same thing only under "much more extreme circumstances."

No one from the 1140th has been shot or killed. Devin Foust said the main thing the squads have to worry about are Iraqis trying to steal vehicles. The would-be thieves usually run away when they see the Hummers approaching.

"They'd be stupid to shoot at a Hummer," Devin Foust said.

As far as living conditions in Iraq, Devin Foust doesn't complain. It's hot over there. The high reached 156 degrees one day. But Devin Foust knows it's better over there now than it used to be. Other guardsmen, reservists and troops have paved the way, setting up camps with electricity. Devin Foust can even play Xbox video games after his work his finished. Or he can go to the gym and work out, maybe catch a few passes in a game of flag football.

But there are things he misses, not the least of which are family and friends.

Devin Foust and his mates from the 1140th will come back home in February.

At that time, he will resume his college education, maybe take a class or two at Southeast Missouri State University before heading back to Mizzou to complete his degree in psychology. He'll get to drink cold milk again, be able to take fresh showers in his apartment instead of in the shower room with 30 other men.

Until then, it's time working with the sand, the camels, the Hummers and the guns.

And Devin Foust's father doesn't want anyone to take that for granted.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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