As a photographer for the Minnesota Army National Guard for nearly 30 years, Charles Farrow enjoyed a window on the world of Minnesota's service men and women.
During the Cold War, he accompanied Minnesota troops training in Germany to confront a possible invasion by the former Soviet Union. He later documented troops in South Korea, where they trained to halt a potential attack from the north. And as the war in Iraq unfolded, he photographed hundreds of soldiers preparing for battle.
Farrow never saw combat, but he documented its many preparations in Minnesota and abroad. And for his years of service, the Vadnais Heights sergeant last month was inducted into the Camp Ripley Court of Honor. He was one of six former Guardsmen honored for "distinguished service.''
"I was honored to know that my name was associated with other great names of the past,'' said Farrow, relaxing in his home last week. "It was a validation that what I did meant a lot to other people.''
Farrow, who grew up in Anoka, never set forth to spend a career trailing Minnesota troops with cameras.
After serving three years active duty in the U.S. Army in the mid 1960s -- including a year in Thailand with the 561st Engineer Company -- he went to college on the GI Bill and earned a photojournalism degree from Metro State University in 1977.
He saw an advertisement in the Star Tribune for a Minnesota Army National Guard photographer and applied.
"Twenty-nine-and-a-half years later, I left,'' he said with a smile. "I was hoping to reach 30 years, but mandatory retirement is age 60.''
However, Fallow's work had tails. Last year he was among nine members of the Minnesota Guard who won a regional Emmy award for his part in a Salute to Freedom campaign aired by Fox Sports Network. The campaign ran in June of 2006, during Minnesota Twins games. It featured Minnesota soldiers greeting family members back home as well as footage of their off-duty activities.
"Here's the Emmy,'' said Fallow, pulling the gold statuette off his fireplace mantel. "I never imagined I'd earn one of these.''
Farrow started his career as a part-time photographer and ended it the public affairs chief at the Camp Ripley training center in Little Falls. He also was an adjunct photography professor at Metro State University in St. Paul for 15 years and ran a freelance photography business.
Now "retired," he offices out of a large room in the house he shared with his wife Maridee. He jokingly refers to his office as "the heart beat of the free world.''
Sitting at his computer, surrounded by tall, black file cabinets, he clicks on some of the photographs he's taken in recent years.
There's a camouflaged soldier kneeling behind brush at an infantry assault course in Camp Ripley, preparing for deployment to Kosovo; a photo of the pyramids in Egypt, taken during a break from joint Minnesota-Egyptian training exercises outside of Cairo.
There's a photo of a simulated bridge-building exercise, where Army boats blast huge fog clouds over the Mississippi River to conceal troops as they swiftly put up a bridge, move troops across, and disassemble it.
"This one was taken at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport; the soldier was leaving for Iraq,'' said Farrow, looking at the image of a young daughter clutching her daddy and a teddy bear. "It was a touching moment. She didn't want to say goodbye to her dad.''
It was Farrow's ability to document both the day-to-day activities of Guard life, as well as the broader missions that prompted Camp Ripley Capt. Kristina VonBerge to nominate him for the award. And as the public affairs officer at Camp Ripley, he transformed the work of the office -- forging closer ties to the surrounding communities, Guard families and the broader media.
In addition, Farrow was a mentor to about 15 to 20 broadcast journalism students over the years, ensuring that his skills get passed on to future generations, she said.
The photographs that pop up next on the computer screen reflect Farrow's newest mission in life, doing volunteer work for a Christian ministry. He's documented mission activity in Eastern Europe, Mexico and India in the past two years. He's headed to Argentina this fall. He also continues to run a freelance photography and video business.
Farrow's motive for the mission work is similar to his work with the Guard. Said Farrow: "I feel that I'm contributing to something bigger than myself.''
Jean Hopfensperger • 651-298-1553