Lansing, Mich. –
LANSING, Mich.— Staff Sgt. Stephen Foster had always dreamed of becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. However, as a boy, he learned he would need to wear glasses to improve his vision. He thought that his dreams of flying an aircraft and serving his nation were over. However, through the opportunities provided by the Michigan National Guard and his artistic talents, Foster's dreams have still managed to take off.
“I've not exactly reached my dreams in the way that I thought that I would,” said Foster, who has since become a commercially rated pilot, despite not being able to fly in the military. “But I'm a pilot, a mechanic, and an artist.”
As a child growing up on Mather Air Force Base, California during the Vietnam War, some of Foster’s earliest and most formative memories were of F-4 Phantoms streaking overhead. Fascinated by what he saw and the exposure to the aircraft almost daily, he began to draw the aircraft.
“I've always drawn and don't remember a time when I didn’t draw,” said Foster. “I still have drawings I did when I was five years old and they’re of airplanes—I have always loved airplanes.”
Though his need for glasses prevented him from military flying, he resolutely chose to pursue a career that kept him around the military aircraft he had grown so fond of. In 1996, Foster enlisted in the Army National Guard as a long-range surveillance paratrooper, the elite units employed for operations deep behind enemy lines.
“That was the closest thing that I could get to airplanes,” said Foster. “The only reason I did it was because I could get on an aircraft—that and I liked the adventure.”
During his time in long-range surveillance, Foster parachuted out of every jumpable Army aircraft and several Air Force aircraft. Having endured the wear and tear of infantry life, but still wanting to serve and receive health insurance benefits, he found an opportunity to continue to work with aircraft in the Michigan National Guard as an airframe mechanic.
“I also, as a side hobby, was really into metal shaping. I would make armor, medieval armor and Spartan armor, all kinds of stuff like that. And then I found out that you can do that in the Army,” said Foster. “And so I switched over to Army aviation, and went to school at Fort Eustis and became an airframe mechanic and I loved it a lot. It just fits like a glove.”
This is where he found his passion for painting.
While working as an aircraft mechanic at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Grand Ledge, Michigan, one of Foster’s coworkers eyed his pencil drawing of a P-40 Warhawk, the shark-nosed monoplane that the United States widely flew during World War II. The coworker, noting the skill in the drawing, asked if Foster painted. Foster responded that he would have to give it a try and while most people might have said this as a throw-away comment, Foster meant it.
Soon, Foster’s paintings began receiving first place recognition in local competitions.
He entered his latest painting, an acrylic painting titled “High Maintenance”, depicting an Army mechanic working on the tail rotor of a Black Hawk, to the Battle Creek 2021 Veterans Creative Art Competition. “High Maintenance” took first place in the acrylic painting category and was named Best in Show.
He accomplished this painting with the help of Sgt. Carl Taylor, a Black Hawk mechanic who acted as a model for Foster.
Taylor, whom Foster has known since 2016, said he’s happy for Foster’s success with the painting. “All the attention should be on Foster, not on me,” he said.
Taylor sees meeting people like Foster as one of the perks of joining the Army.
“You meet a lot of great people,” Taylor said, “You find an artist, and you're working right next to him and you wouldn't even know.”
Foster prides himself on serving in the Army National Guard with his fellow maintainers, calling them the unsung heroes behind every aircraft operation in history.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a part of the U.S. military, not everyone has that opportunity,” said Foster, “I like being an aircraft mechanic and maintaining medevac and assault helicopters. It's an overlooked job, probably because it is not glamorous. It’s long hours of dirty work in all kinds of climates.”
Foster plans to expand his paintings by visiting places using his airplane, a 1959 Piper Pacer.
“My plan is to take that airplane and fly it into remote places that most people can't get to, and paint from there,” Foster said, “and then I'll have some unique paintings that you can't find anywhere else.”
From a young boy drawing airplanes to feel closer to them, to a pilot who plans to travel the world to find truly unique sights to paint, Foster exemplifies where passion and determination can take us.
Individuals looking for more information about how serving in the Michigan Army or Air National Guard can offer great opportunities are encouraged to contact recruiters at: Michigan Army National Guard recruiting, www.miarmyguard.com, 888-906-1636, the Michigan Army National Guard app, or Michigan Air National Guard recruiting, 1-800-432-4296 or Facebook at https://facebook.com/MIANGRecruiting/.
In addition to health insurance benefits, the Michigan Army and Air National Guard can offer financial resources for members. All Michigan National Guard members and their families can be eligible for up to $14,400 in tuition assistance per year through the Michigan National Guard State Tuition Assistance Program, the GI Bill, the GI-Bill Kicker and cash bonus incentives up to $30,000 for selected military occupations.