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380AEW Article

On-duty firefighter, off-duty artist: Deployed Airman improves work environment

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Sun Tzu once wrote in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”


In a deployed environment it becomes quite easy to bury oneself in the stresses of military life. Passions, talents and other facets of an individual’s personality can fall away or become dull with neglect. Then, when the member returns home, they realize that they do not recognize their reflection in the mirror.


However, one Airman with the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron here recently found a way to link two very important parts of himself together to the benefit of his unit: Art and firefighting.


“Art has always been a part of my life,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan, firefighter with the 380 ECES. “I think it’s pretty cool to bring that part of me into my military life and now they’ve come together.”


He had always been interested in art as a child, often drawing and painting through high school. He even worked as a tattoo artist for a time before joining, as evidenced by the colorful and detailed tattoos across his forearms.


During his deployment here, he made many smaller pieces of art for units across the base, including morale patches and squadron coins. But still he aspired for more.


“I came here wanting to do a mural, but I didn’t know if it was going to happen,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to [paint] for the military. To leave my mark here…what better place?”


Chief Master Sgt. Mark, fire chief with the 380 ECES, worked with Jonathan at their home station and knew about his artistic skill, said Mark. Jonathan therefore approached Mark and other members of his leadership with the idea and received permission to paint outside of one of the fire stations here.


And so began the massive project. Jonathan dedicated all of his free time, including each day off, to his artistic endeavor.


The paint and brushes were difficult to obtain within the area of responsibility, so he had to get creative. He took old paint brushes and crafted them to suit his needs. He recycled old paint that others intended to throw away.


Jonathan later came across a photo by Senior Airman Tyler of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office here. The photo, which was taken during a recent Coalition training exercise, was perfect for the project, he said.


“I wanted to do something that captured the intensity and the drive of a firefighter,” he said. “When I came across his photo, I thought that this was everything I wanted to do in a painting.”


People would pause in their errands to watch and would go out of their way to give positive comments and encouragement. His colleagues and leadership were extremely supportive, he said, even going so far as to build shade structures to keep the sun off of his back while he worked.


The encouragement and support, he said, was the best part of the project because from his perspective, it was easier to see the small flaws than the big picture. The final product was a bit of a surprise to everyone, including himself.


“I had no idea that he could do something on this scale,” said Mark. “I think that it draws attention to the fire department, more than just the fire trucks sitting out here. People engage us a little more.”


In the end, Jonathan contributed over 150 hours of his time to the two murals. They now serve as a conversation piece between firefighters and other members of the base, thus bringing the military community here closer together.


“I’m glad that I had an opportunity to do something like this,” he said. “When am I ever going to be able to paint in another country, on a deployment, and do something like that that people can understand? For me, it’s once in a lifetime.”


(Last names have been removed for security purposes)