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T.J. SIMERS

Let's not hear about those courageous athletes anymore

Angels fan Daniel Foster will get a Silver Star for bravery in Afghanistan in a ceremony Saturday night at Angel Stadium.

April 07, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Former Army specialist Daniel Foster will receive the Silver Star for extraordinary courage in combat prior to the Angels' game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
Former Army specialist Daniel Foster will receive the Silver Star for extraordinary… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

The past few days it has sounded as if fans choosing to go to Dodger Stadium deserved medals for bravery.

It has a ridiculous sound to it, doesn't it?

But a medal will be given Saturday to a baseball fan, Daniel Foster choosing to receive the Silver Star in a ceremony before the game with Toronto at Angel Stadium.

Foster, a 22-year-old Army specialist, served 14 months in Iraq before deploying to Afghanistan, and while some might conclude he still doesn't have enough training to take on Dodger Stadium, he explains, "I'm an Angels fan.

"And here's hoping the Angels kick their butts," he says, and probably not a good idea to argue.

There must be 50 ways to love your Angels

Foster's Army buddy Tom Boldon, who lost a leg in Afghanistan, is coming from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to personally present him with the Silver Star for extraordinary courage displayed in combat.

"When people talk about valor," Foster says, while sitting in the Costa Mesa home of his parents, "I think of Forrest Gump carrying like 20 or 30 dudes out of the woods or some guy falling on a grenade. That's medal stuff.

"I was just doing my job, helping my buddies out."

It's the early hours of May 21 last year, still May 20 back in Chicago, where the Angels are playing while Foster stands guard in a tower in Afghanistan.

"It's routine, guard duty every day for six to eight hours," he says, and he'd give almost anything to listen to an Angels game to make the night go faster. "I would make lists of things to think about before going on guard duty."

It's almost time to change guard shifts when gunfire begins. But it doesn't seem threatening.

"This cargo truck pulls slowly around the corner leading down the road to our compound," Foster says. "I'm thinking maybe he's just trying to get out of the way of the gunfire. That's understandable. But then I hear him revving the engine.

"I pull the bolt back on my machine gun and I'm thinking I'll count to three. But the driver hits the gas; I guess he's just tired of living, so I help him with that."

If the truck makes it past Foster, it can take aim on the barracks filled with American soldiers as well as another with friendly Afghan troops.

Foster fires 30 to 40 rounds into the windshield, stops the truck and watches two occupants slump forward. He doesn't know it, but he has taken out suicide bombers. The truck is loaded with 500 pounds of explosives and 41 heavy-duty mortar shells.

"The next thing I know, I see a small orange blast, a big orange blast and then I'm on my butt staring at the ceiling. My head's ringing, and my lip is split halfway up to my nose. The blast knocks out my upper six teeth, most of the bone, shatters the lower seven teeth and the bone that holds those in.

"I open the door to clear out the smoke, and see two friendly Afghani soldiers below. One of them is hurt, his buddy trying to help. Then two guys dressed in American uniforms walk up and just shoot the two Afghani dudes.

"This is happening like 30 yards from me. Turns out they were suicide bombers too, with mortars strapped to their chests. They didn't get the chance to set them off, though, because I turned the machine gun on them."

Foster "tags" one, he says, but runs out of ammunition. His roommate, Nick Robinson, has also run out of ammo, but he takes a rifle from a fallen Afghani and keeps the intruder from penetrating the compound with his bomb.

It's about the third inning in Chicago, Ervin Santana pitching a gem, the Angels up, 4-0, while the attack in Afghanistan continues from three directions.

Foster has no idea how badly he's hurt. There's blood everywhere, but he takes little notice. He's under fire in the tower. They shoot and he ducks. He shoots and they duck.

"We play that game for a good couple hundred rounds," he says. He is told later he got three more attackers.

A medic forces him to get attention, putting a straw in his mouth to help him breathe. But his buddies call for ammo, so he's off to help.

The adrenaline wears off, the pain unbearable. The Angels are in a fight too, holding on to win, 6-5.

"Crazy about the things you think about that are happening back at home," he says.

Foster arrives in Germany for treatment, but he has no ID, clothes or money. The American Red Cross and Wounded Warriors save him.

"Just awesome," he says, two surgeries having repaired his mouth before he left the Army last October, though eating remains a chore — still looking at four or five surgeries to get his teeth back.

"The lady at the DMV tells me to smile for my picture," he says, "but when I do she says they can't take my picture looking like this."

Good luck stopping him from being all smiles in Anaheim Stadium because he's going to be reunited with his buddies. As good as it gets, he says, but he's still upset he lost three comrades after leaving Afghanistan.

"A feeling of helplessness," he says, the puppy in his lap named Boldon, for his buddy. "I told my buddy I was going to get a three-legged pug in his honor, but couldn't find one."

Foster adds a tattoo of a cat to his own leg, which reads: "9 Lives — 8 To Go."

As for the Silver Star, he says, "It's humbling. No one tries to get an award. I definitely didn't try to get a Purple Heart.

"But I remember watching the History Channel, listening to guys who served their country and the look in their eyes. They knew they had done something."

Angels fans undoubtedly will note the same thing and shower Foster with appreciation. His message to them: "Just remember, there are still people fighting over there and doing exactly what I was doing."

Everyone in agreement, I'm sure, hoping for a good game and uneventful guard duty.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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