After his first sight of Jackson Hole, Kyle Foster talked it over with his wife and daughter and the family agreed they wanted to move to Wyoming.
Anticipating the big logistics of moving their lives across the country and all the things that could go sideways, they came up with a detailed two-year plan to scout the West, ask around about jobs, then make the big move from Virginia in a methodical manner.
Six months later they were in Jackson.
Foster said he is now “in the one place I thought I never could be ... I love it here so much.”
It was a surprise, he said: “I came across Jackson by accident. I didn’t know what the Grand Teton was.”
Foster started in November with the Jackson Police Department. His wife, Shelby, works for Jackson Mercantile and Lucky You, and also runs an online baby clothes business for herself. Daughter Rylie, 11, is in middle school.
Foster was raised in West Virginia, and wasn’t a big traveler until his employer, the United States Marine Corps, sent him overseas. That included, during his four years of active duty, two tours in Afghanistan. And some memories.
One day his unit was near an intersection in a village, taking fire, when he went to reload his grenade launcher and there was an explosion. He was thrown against a dirt wall, stunned.
Foster thought at first the explosion was a misfire of his own weapon. But after he and his buddies pulled themselves together, another told them that a kid had been seen just ahead, with a cellphone, the usual method of setting off an improvised explosive. Then they found evidence of the bomb.
Foster is proud of his time in the Marines, and as he told one of the sisters of Rylee McCollum, the Jackson Marine recently killed in Kabul, time in the Corps “would be one of the most important parts of his life.” Just weeks before McCollum died, Foster told the sister that her brother should “embrace it, be proud of his service.”
But it wasn’t a glorious adventure, he said, recalling the natives he met in Afghanistan. They were “simple people with simple lives,” Foster said, “not into the politics, hadn’t heard of 9/11, they just wanted the killing to stop.”
When he came home, still in the Marine Reserves, Foster considered becoming a nurse, but let that go, acknowledging that “school was not my strong suit.”
It seemed more natural to become a sheriff’s deputy in Rockingham County, Virginia, an area with a lot of rural space but also the home of James Mason University. He worked patrol and SWAT, had some experience with crisis intervention. The department’s 200 people dealt with a mix — old-time country people on one hand and crowds of young students on the other. Both could be trouble, he said. And, not to badmouth, looking back it just seems there were “a lot more nasty people” where he used to be.
Traveling had been a longtime dream, and Foster finally began some planning. He’d been fascinated by Glacier National Park, and thought he and the family would go there, and, as long as it was close, throw in Yellowstone. Jackson Hole Airport was a convenient place to begin the journey.
But it was flying in to the Tetons that turned out to be the sharpest memory. As they drove from the airport, before they reached the highway, there was a bull elk standing there. It took no time for Foster to think “this place is amazing.”
Back home he found that the Jackson PD was advertising for officers. That the department could, in a town with a housing emergency, offer a new hire a place to live was a big part of the decision.
There were adjustments for a law officer going from one state to another. In Virginia there’s a system of magistrates, a kind of judge who plays a big role in authorizing a lot of police activity that here is seen as an officer’s responsibility. After close to a decade of one system, moving into another was a stretch.
“I thought this would be an easy transition, but it’s completely different,” he said. “I found I don’t know as much as I thought I did.”
Another thing he didn’t know but learned after he arrived was happier: “I’m surprised how supportive the community is in Jackson,” he said. “And I honestly enjoy going on Town Square and just giving people directions.”
In Jackson the Foster family has found the life they were looking for. They enjoy the community, fishing and kayaking. They’ve also continued their traveling ways.
“I think we’re up to 29 national parks,” Foster said, including Glacier, where he told his daughter to take a good look because when she is older “those glaciers aren’t going to be there any more ... you’ve go to take the beauty while you can.”
And, he tells her, whether it’s Glacier or Yellowstone or the parks in Maine and on West Coast they’ve seen or right here in their new home, “keep on remembering it’s a gift.”