Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who Fights This War--Retiring to a Gun in the Sun


If you’re looking for retirement advice, don’t ask Master Sgt. William Foster, 55, a door gunner in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment. The former Punxsutawney, Pa., police department patrol sergeant did not move to Florida and did not take a part-time job like many retirees. ‘Punxsutawney Bill,’ as he is known in the town he has lived in all of his life, decided to volunteer as a door gunner and go to Iraq for retirement.

Granted, he got the sun retirees crave back home. But most retirees don’t load a Gator with a half-dozen guns six days a week in the afternoon sun and help prepare a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for a long, possibly all-night, mission.

Although Iraq is low on the list of destinations retirement planners recommend, Foster believes this is the right place for him to be and the right time for him to be here. “My younger son deployed just ahead of me as a sniper with 112th (a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit in the 56th Stryker Brigade),” said Foster. “I wanted to be here at the same time, even if we were not in the same place. My older son is working on a master’s degree in San Diego and my daughter is at Lock Haven University in physician’s assistant training. They are all doing great. It was a good time to go.”

Before deployment, Foster served nearly half of each year as a marksmanship instructor for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “I have been leading training since 1996,” he said. “After a while you have to get out from behind the podium and use the weapons in the field.”

“We (Pennsylvania’s Marksmanship Team Unit) instruct active-duty Army. I did not want to stand in front of those guys without first-hand experience in Iraq,” said Foster, who plans to return to marksmanship instruction after deployment. “God-willing and the body doesn’t fall apart, I’ve got another five years until I turn 60.”

Foster first enlisted in 1972, served four years, went to college, was commissioned in 1979, and served as an officer until 1996 when he resigned his commission. He started over again as a sergeant and was promoted to master sergeant this month by Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi, 28th Infantry Division commanding general, in a ceremony in Iraq.

Foster plans to retire in Punxsutawney and have weekends free to do as he likes and get involved with his beloved community as a volunteer for the first time in forty years.

“I am going to make weekend plans. I haven’t done that since high school,” said Foster. “In fact, I may grow a beard. I haven’t had facial hair since high school either.”