Thursday, December 28, 2006

Waiting for a Flight Part Two

A couple days ago, I once again had time on my hands, as I waited to catch a flight to somewhere else in Iraq . I saw a marine playing a game on his Playstation, and found it interesting visually, and historically as well (this is something that you just didn’t see in past wars…)

I hope to use this sketch to paint a larger work in oil, when I get back home to the studio. I’ll show you the finished product, if and when I finish it...

The Air Wing

I had a day of layover at Al Asad Airbase the other day, and got to spend some time at a Marine Squadron based there. I jumped at the chance, because everybody knows that aviation makes for great subject matter (And the little kid in me loves an air show still—airplanes are cool…)!

The marine mechanics were engaged in extensive scheduled maintenance of on one of the Harrier jets, and I had time to do a pencil drawing, a watercolor sketch, and a few little quick gesture drawings of the mechanics, as they went about there tasks on and around the aircraft.

Here’s some of the work:
The watercolor was good practice for me, as I did it sitting on my little stool, with my little brush and little watercolor field kit (Windsor & Newton Cotman Compact Set) brushing away, hoping the water would go where I wanted it to go! (watercolor is so unforgiving and difficult to control…)

The gesture sketches were fun, as the mechanics were moving so speedily about their business that I was forced to work fast, which is excellent practice at the “visual shorthand” that makes drawing so interesting artistically.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Marlboro Marine

I was on my first patrol back in November, with Lima Company 3/2, and I was taking photos and video while walking about... (sketching while on patrol is ill-advised unless you're under some good cover-- see the final scene of "All Quiet on the Western Front"...)

While the marines were taking a break, one of them lit up a cigarette (politically incorrect, I know, but it still makes for a cool subject!)

I used a "General's Sketch & Wash #588" Pencil, which makes a good black line but is also water-soluble, so you can create washes with it to achieve a good tonal range.

The more I use this pencil, the more I like it...

More to come...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In Process

Here are two oil paintings that are in process, coming closer to maturity, only a few sittings away from being finished. These images, as do many I gravitate to, depict the common, everyday, banal experiences of the troops—things that people might not think about when they think of war or deployment, but are nonetheless a real part of the experience. The first is called “Baharia Barbershop” and depicts just that—a field-expedient haircutting station for marines who still have to maintain grooming standards without the luxury of a regular barbershop down the street.

The second image is from my experiences with the 3rd BN 2nd Marine Regiment near Habbaniyah. This image is called, appropriately, “The Chess Game” and is based on my time at OP Steelers, with India Company 3/2. It was Thanksgiving Day and these marines were finished with their work (they are combat engineers attached to 3/2) and were having a game of chess and sitting around reading and resting.

These subjects are fun to me, though they may not be glamorous or “sexy” so to speak. I want to depict for history the little things that made up everyday life in Iraq—things that made life in Iraq what it was; things that people can relate to, whether or not they were there.

The Boys Are Back in Town

I’m back after a fast-paced week outside the wire.

I went with LtCol Wheeler, the deployed Marine Historian from the History Division, as we took the opportunity to go out with teams from the 4th CAG (Civil Affairs Group), as they engaged in the important business of Civil Affairs in the vicinity of Ramadi.

While on convoy and at various Combat Outposts and Civil Affairs meetings I collected photographs, shot video of marines, soldiers, Iraqi Army, and Local Nationals.

While the fast-paced nature of most of the activity prevented me from spending very much time with the sketch book, I was still able to produce several quality graphite wash drawings, seven sketches, and a couple of watercolors of the activities we saw on the missions into Ramadi.

This week’s photos and video, as well as the sketches and watercolors, will provide me with weeks of painting activity back at Quantico, to produce the larger-format works for the History Division, Museum and Collection.

Flying “Space A”

LtCol Wheeler and I had a glitch in our flight back to Camp Fallujah because of a logistical error on the part of those who source the birds for those who request flights. So, instead of having a one-way flight to Camp Fallujah, we had to fly “Space A,” or “Space Available” basically the same as Standby in the civilian world. We caught a “Bird” (helicopter) from Camp Ramadi to Al Taqqadum (TQ), and then had to wait at TQ to catch a helicopter to Camp Fallujah. This added a day to our return, which was disappointing and a bit tiring (It’s still better than walking! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful…).

The wait at Ramadi and the stop-over at “TQ” proved productive and gave me time to sketch the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and civilians that were all in the same boat, waiting for a flight. It’s a common experience, and one that is part of this war’s personality, so I had to capture it through sketching.

I drew some really quick sketches--purposefully loose, to work on my visual “shorthand”, capturing images with the fewest, most expressive lines. It’s the main reason to draw from life, as far as I’m concerned, and provides enough challenge for a lifetime of drawing.

Here are the sketches from the Ramadi and TQ waiting areas, where I sat for hours with others, talking, catching a few Z’s, thinking about home, watching a movie on the big TV…(yes, modern warfare brings with it big screen TVs).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Here I am, sketching at COP Falcon in Ramadi.

I was out with members of the 4th CAG (Civil Affairs Group), as they conducted a CMOC (Civil Military Operations Center).

During a CMOC, Iraqi citizens can come and wait at a designated spot for a meeting with the CAG staff, which provide services which perhaps the local officials can't yet provide.

People can come tell their troubles, air their grievances against the Americans, receive recompense for any damages by Coalition Forces, or receive help with basic things like heaters or school supplies.

The day-to-day efforts of the CAGs, though not well publicized back in the States, are making a marked improvement in the reality on the ground, truly winning the hearts and minds of the citizens, as they see the Coalition actually keeping its word and helping Iraqis (unlike the Insurgents, who simply use them as pawns and cannon fodder).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Iraqi Army

As you know, recently I went on a joint patrol with elements of Lima Company 3/2 and the Iraqi Army. During one of these patrols, Lima Company showed the IA the local area, and the IA leader took several opportunities to make his presence known among the people, and tell them of the coming transition of that area to IA control. Here is a drawing from that experience, where the IA Captain is talking with a local Iraqi man. The Iraqi people seemed to warm to the man considerably, and were pleased to hear that the Iraqi Army was taking over the area and that the Americans would be leaving.

During my time with 3/2 I also got to spend considerable time at various Observation Posts (also called Patrol Bases) with Lima Company and India Company. Here is a drawing of a marine on post at OP Bears, around 24 November. It's done in pencil and graphite wash, a technique I've begun to use and have started to like.

I also have another sketch in graphite wash, this one from my time in Baharia, with the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. It's a picture of a target station at the firing range at Baharia, with some shot-up targets and old tires, and some discarded targets littering the ground. I found it an interesting "still life" and felt compelled to draw it.

It's great, getting paid to sketch and draw things that interest you-- especially in the Marine Corps!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sketches from previous posts

As promised, here are the sketches that were missing in the previous two posts. . . .

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Some Drawings, Finally!

I finally got off my duff and went to the nice folks at the Combat Camera shop here at CF and scanned in some of the drawings I'd made during and after my trips to 1/24 in Baharia and 3/2 in Habbaniyah.

Here they are:

This is a sketch I did of the Lima Co. Commanding Officer, Capt Brown, as he catches some needed rest after a long previous night's activities (and before a coming patrol) 18 Nov 2006.

They were going on joint patrols with members of the Iraqi Army, in order to show them the ropes and the territory, and give them control of the area by the beginning of December (which they have successfully done, nothankyouCNN).

Here's a photo that Combat Cameraman Sgt Adaecus Brooks took of me, while I was sketching Capt Brown(!)

I also sketched Cpl Ryan as he took a rest nearby. (I did a quick ink-scribble of him, which has a certain whimsy, I hope):
During my time with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, I also visited the marines at OP Broncos, just down the road from OP Steelers (detect a theme here for OP names?) and went out on a patrol with the IA and some SEALs (I'm working on art from photos I took of the patrol).

I got to sketch the marines as they got up and went about their morning rituals, one of which was to sit at the little fire they'd made in an empty ammo can and warm themselves:

I'll be working on a painting of another scene, of the marines around their fire, enjoying a little light reading...

I also am working on a drawing of a marine shaving at the OP's "Hygeine Pit" -- they have no real head (bathroom in Marine Corps/Navy lingo) at these OPs, so they "poo" in little green plastic bags on port-a-john seats, and pee in a pipe that empties on the outside of the camp. These may sound banal to some, but they are a part of these marines' experience here in Iraq, and are part of history.

On one patrol, I was able to sketch a marine officer call in an airstrike on a known insurgent house, which had been cleared of people and set to blow. Capt O.J. Weiss called down several 500 lb. bombs and a couple 1000 lb. bombs on the target, until the house was gone.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Back "Inside the Wire"

Greetings, art lovers and military types!

I am once again “inside the wire” at Camp Fallujah, after having gone on two trips to sketch, photograph, video tape, and interview marines out in "Indian Country".

My first trip was to Baharia, to visit the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. These gentlemen are members of my old reserve unit, the 24th, so as soon as I heard they were in country I set up a trip to spend time with them. I stayed at Baharia (a former party place for Saddam's son, Uday, which is actually quite lovely, despite all the HESCO barriers and the concertina wire!)

During my nine-day stay with 1/24, I got to go on three convoys into Fallujah, to visit the FOBs in the city. Unfortunately, two of these trips were to attend memorial services for the fallen marines of each of those two units. The third trip was to the Fallujah Mayor's Office compound, to watch and sketch a city council meeting (sketch and pictures to come). This was a very interesting time, as I got to see the local nationals, the great citizens of Fallujah, vent their citizenly frustration at the Col. who commanded the regiment and thus the town.


The proof that democracy is taking root in Fallujah is that the Fallujah City Council meeting was just as long-winded and full of useless citizen venting as any city council meeting anywhere in the USA! We're winning! The meeting was loosely run by the council's secretary (as the normal presiding official had been recently murdered) and the meeting meandered through several topics, many of which were complaints about how the marines are treating the people.

I must say that these complaints, though heartfelt and sincere on the part of the citizenry, where utterly and completely untrue, and based solely on rumor and hearsay (examples: that the marines were shooting Iraqi Police, that marines shot several Iraqi women, and that marines were keeping schools from opening-- none of it true.)

The Regimental Commander handled it smoothly and professionally, consistently reassuring the council and the people that the marines were committed to the welfare of the people of Fallujah and to helping them live a better life. I admire his tact and his calm in handling such insults. He only got a little agitated when the leader of schools brought up the part about the closing of schools. At this, the Colonel told them firmly that they were being insulting, and that they shouldn't come to him with such baseless accusations. He then firmly told them of how much the marines had been involved in helping ensure that Iraqi children went to school, and how the people of Fallujah had no better friend to the schools than the US Marines.

I wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face with half of the "issues" brought up at the meeting. But I guess that's why the Colonel gets paid the big bucks; nobody gets to that rank without being one cool customer.

On 9 November, I returned to Camp Fallujah for a few days, to work on some paintings based on the experiences at Baharia and Fallujah.

Yet before I could finish the art I’d been working on, I got word of some things of interest happening northwest of Fallujah, toward Ramadi. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based in Habbaniyah, was scheduled to turn over their area of operation to elements of the Iraqi Army and in preparation for this, were going out on joint patrols with the IA, to show them the ropes and show them the turf.

This I had to be a part of-- so I got a flight up to TQ (airbase Al Taqqadum) on 16 Nov and was driven to Habbaniyah. (Why I didn’t get a direct flight to Habbaniyah has to do with the fact that I’m a newbie, and that I thought the unit was stationed in Ramadi… I’ll spare you the details!)

I was driven out to one of the OPs (Observation Posts) in an area called the Shark’s Fin, along the Euphrates River. The OP was called “OP Chargers” (also called Patrol Base Chargers), run by Lima Company, 3/2, commanded by a very capable Captain who seems cut out for infantry command (details later). I got to go out on my first patrol on the 18th of November, with, and a platoon of IA soldiers, commanded by a Captain who seems cut out for relating to the Iraqi people.

We walked and talked to several of the local leaders, and some citizens as well. The Iraqi commander hit it off really well with the people, which bodes well for the passivity of the area in the future, and for such transitions to Iraqi control in other areas. He walked with an air of confidence, and never pulled his weapon from its place, slung across his back (he seemed to need his hands to talk!). I felt this was excellent, as I have heard that the Iraqis respect strength and confidence, and don’t respect when soldiers or marines point their weapons or have them at the ready.

My second patrol was with the Battalion Commander and his JUMP Team, not only to talk to some of the citizens, but also to call in an air strike on a local house, which had been a known insurgent’s home, and a safe-house for bad activity.

I got a good sketch of the marine who called in the air strike, and a lot of good photos and video of it as well (man, I must say that 1000 lb. and 500 lb. bombs make a lot of noise and break a lot of things!).

My third patrol was once again with Lima Co and elements of the Iraqi Army, but this time it included several US Navy SEALs, who were training the IA, and had an interest in knowing the area as well. Those guys are smooth operators… that’s worth a whole post in and of itself!

I saw my first dead insurgent on this patrol, one of two that had been killed by Lima Company a couple days before (in a firefight in which the Captain mentioned before had a dud grenade fall at his feet! This didn’t stop him-- he stood up, went forward, and led his men as they killed the insurgents with grenades and small arms fire).

This day we only saw the remnants of their work. Once again, as in my previous two patrols, we saw no enemy and didn’t fire a shot. (This is fine with me, as it shows that 3/2 has becoming more and more successful in pacifying this area).

I spent a couple of days with India Company, further west towards Ramadi, which was less pacified—I wasn’t taken on any patrols, but certainly heard quite a few explosions, both ours and theirs, as I stayed at OP Bears, and OP Steelers.

I’ve got a lot of art to work on— I’ll post them as they are completed, and I’ll make sure the sketches I have finished already are posted in the next day or two.

Thanks for your patience, and for your thoughts and prayers.

Semper Fi


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pistol Range

We went to the pistol range today, to keep proficient with our sidearms. It's always great to get out and "bus' a-cuppa-caps" so to speak!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fallujah Surgical

What a day. . . I was over at Fallujah Surgical today, sketching the place, when they brought in a 19 year old PFC. I went to the check-in hut and asked if I could go in and sketch. They gave me permission, and I went into the treatment room. I couldn't take my camera in, but the doctors said they didn't mind if I drew, and I said I didn't have to show details of faces, etc. I spent an hour or so drawing the activities surrounding the treatment of the young Marine-- from assessment, to surgery preparation, to surgery. The drawings shown here, though rough and simple, were done in real time, as the events unfolded. The Marine is from my old reserve regiment from my prior enlistment, the 24th Marines. He was wounded in the right hand, the thumb of which was almost completely severed. Luckily, he was wearing his body armor, as the chest plate stopped the other round which would have severely wounded or killed him. They talked to him as they assessed his wounds, and they showed him pictures of possible reconstruction they could do, or if necessary, prosthetics. He was alert and seemed to be taking it well. The docs took him into the OR and prepped him for surgery. They worked to save his thumb, and last I heard, he had been medevac'd for further surgery. 

I hope they can save his thumb. When I went back in to Fallujah Surgical this afternoon to inquire about the Marine, there were several more Marines getting treated for minor wounds suffered. One was burned slightly on the face and had scratches on parts of his face and arms. I was able to get the sketch done shown here. What a nice batch of kids we are producing in America these days. My generation, as every one before, has talked of the degeneration of our culture -- "Kids today...!" I'm sure we are producing a lot of duds, even some in our military. But by far the vast majority I've seen have acted in that quiet, simple heroism that touches you when you see it. Humans may be sin-scarred and imperfect, but God has allowed for His nature to be seen, ever so slightly, sometimes even through the trauma and roughness of our world -- even in war.