This reporter's notebook was written by CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
It's been five weeks since Connie Foyteck got word that her oldest son, 26-year-old Army Sgt. Kraig Foyteck, had been killed in Iraq. Two days ago she agreed to talk with us in advance of the release of the Iraq Study Group's report.
Our three-hour visit with her and her surviving son, Christopher, at their modest home in La Porte, Ind., is filled with laughter as well as tears. Like most grief-stricken family members, Connie was apprehensive about the interview, but she says she did it for Kraig. She wants his story told, she wants him to be remembered — but mostly she wants to believe he didn't die in vain.
Kraig Foyteck's unit was based in Alaska and was supposed to be sent home last August — two full months before Kraig died. You may remember the heart-breaking story of the soldiers who made it all the way back to Alaska only to be told their deployment in Iraq had been extended. Although Kraig wasn't part of that group that made the 5,620-mile trip, that was his unit.
Connie shared some of her son's e-mails with us, in which Kraig wrote, "you guys always ask if I'm in a safe area and the answer is always going to be no," and how "the other day, two kids around the age of 15 threw grenades at one of the Strykers. Of course by the time they realized who threw them they were gone. These were kids — how crazy is that?"
She and I laughed together at silly pictures. Kraig was one of those people who saw the irony in life, such as when he posed in front of a dirt lawn with a Keep Off the Grass sign with an incredulous look that seemed to say, "What grass??!!," or when he lined up his friends in the path of a tank with a placard reading "Student Driver."
But he was also the kind of guy who had T-shirts made to honor a fallen friend and told frightened parents not to worry — that he would protect their son. He was the kind of guy who could strike up a conversation during an airport layover that a young woman later told his mother she'll never forget.
Connie says she keeps getting what feels like pro forma letters from politicians telling her how sorry they are, but she says she knows that today another soldier could die. It's the cards, letters, and trinkets from people she never met that mean more than she can say.
The point is that she never supported this war but the fact that it seems increasingly un-winnable makes her fear that Kraig lost his life for no reason — her handsome blond son who was a friend to everyone and had a new truck he wanted to drive all the way from his base in Alaska to his house in Indiana, where he had a boat and a lake that he and his friends loved to water-ski on and a dog who used to sit by the window waiting for Kraig to come home and two sets of grandparents who loved him and a little brother who idolized him and a mother who was just counting the days until he was safe and a girl that Kraig was beginning to believe might be "the one."
Just over a week ago the first of the 3,800 members of the 172 Stryker Brigade Combat team began arriving at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the temperature — 32 below — was 102 degrees colder than in Baghdad. During its 16-month deployment, 26 soldiers died, including Sgt. Kraig Foyteck. Our condolences go out to all of their families.
Some soldiers never get mail while overseas. If you're interested in sending a soldier mail or packages, please visit soldiersangels.com.
By Cynthia Bowers
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.