Thursday, December 21, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
The precedence for this medal and order goes back to the George Medal of Guadalcanal fame. Major Winslow in his civilian career is an uber talented industrial/commercial designer and fabricator. You can check out his company's website here.
Here is the background for the Military Order of St. Nicholas according to Major Winslow:
Similar to the George Medal of WWII, this is an informal medal to recognize the the efforts of Field Historians.
The medal is based on an Iraqi Army badge. The Marine Corps EGA is super-imposed on a Persian star, surrounded by palm fronds, from under which radiates the bright rays of the desert sun. I hand sculpted the medal in plaster, poured a firing mold from concrete used to rebuild parts of the MEF(fwd) HQ building, and workded with Seabees and their torches to cast the first prototype-all this aboard Camp Fallujah, literally while the camp was at times under mortar and rocket fire. The silver was shipped to Iraq by a metal dealer in Texas. The final medals were cast by a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Guadalcanal veteran.
The Society is named after Colonel Nicholas Reynolds, who drafted the first Field Historians for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and saw to it that they were deployed to the opening salvos of what has turned into a rather long and historic engagement....
The Society is an association of Field Historians who have deployed to combat zones in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and others, who have served the History Detachment in a beneficial manner. Form and function is similar to the Artillery Order of St. Barbara. All that being said, it's generally a way to ensure we have yet another occasion to get togther for a beer or two.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
A good friend and coffee shop compatriot, Robert Martin, a photographer for our local newspaper, The Free-Lance Star, was on assignment covering this first day the museum was open to the general public. If you go here you can see a slide show of the pictures he shot, which include two of yours truly.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
All this activity took some of the edge off the election results. Though expected, the turn-over of Congressional and Senatorial power to the Dems is disappointing during this time of war. They'll no doubt outlaw war, and we'll all be able to go home and I'll be able to stop my war rants.
As might be expected, there isn't much I can share with you substantively about our visit to Cuba. I can tell you that the conditions under which the terrorist detainees live are far better than you can possibly imagine. And, if you compare their detention with the treatment of our few unfortunate POWs (torture and beheadings), the difference statistically would have to be expressed in astronomical percentages.
Unfortunately my digital camera has had to be turned in for repairs, so until I can borrow another these postings will be short on pics. However, if you go over to the Leatherneck Magazine website, you can see a two page spread of my work appearing in this month's issue. Click on the "Contents" section top left of the page, and then click on "38 Faces in a Combat Zone". Note: click on the "Faces in a Combat Zone" and the images will enlarge.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Now-2006 Banners of Our Brothers
Go Army! Hooah! (I never thought those words would ever cross these old jarhead lips!)
Few things are as powerful in communicating an idea or a sentiment as imagery....music comes close, but pictures are worth the proverbial thousand words. And there are those few images that manage to speak volumes and arrive on the scene with perfect timing. Here are two.
My career in the Marines has encompassed a number of fields; infantry mortarman, bookkeeper, helicopter avionicsman and crewchief, classified materials custodian, and now combat artist. You would probably assume that being a middle-age artist running around in the thick of a fire fight with 20 year olds tops the list of challenges I've faced.....WRONG. The toughest job, bar none, ever served up by the Marines to me has been recruiting duty.
I won't regale you with war stories from the recruiting trenches.....and there are plenty. My old retired gunny buddy and I every now and again brainstorm the idea of writing a sitcom based on this unforgiving duty. In the course of an average week recruiters get exposed to and involved in situations worthy of a Greek play...Irony, Tragedy and Comedy...it's all there in spades.
By the end of my tour I was actually going through the process of legally immigrating to Canada. My wife at the time was a citizen of the Great White North and we were Nova Scotia bound. Why share this with you? Because after 3 years of working 6 and 7 day weeks from sunup to many a midnight I was completely burned out with what seasoned recruiters refer to as the greatest threat to democracy and western civilization; Moms of America. For the better part of three years I bit my tongue listening, in one form or another, to how enlisting in the military was a waste of time and talent. If elitist upper middle class condescension could kill I'd be a dead man many times over.(It was amazing to me how many parents still thought we were recruiting from the inside of judges chambers.) I recruited in the whitebread Washington, DC suburb of Fairfax County, Virginia. The attitudes that people go in the military by default and not design, and somebody elses kid should serve was rampant. During that tour I managed to be Marine Recruiter of the Year twice. I was pretty good at countering this mentality......but at the end of the day I was toast.
So, little wonder the good senator from Taxachusettes hit a raw nerve with me. He apparently apologized today. Vice-President Cheney, someone who can be funny, had a great one liner about "he was for the joke before he was against the joke". We can now add that he was against the apology before he was for it. Waffles anyone? The bottom line for me is that he voiced a prevalent and pervasive sentiment meant to play well in the ears of the Dem's constituency, a college campus crowd. His hand got caught in the cookie jar. That's the only thing he's probably genuinely sorry about.
I don't think many in the military really give a hoot one way or the other about this apology. The sentiment that joining the service is a waste is something all of us have had to deal with in one form or another, and often with those closest to us. It's a first cousin to "I support the troops but not the war" mentality.
At the end of the day we're just left feeling a little like the cavemen characters in the GEICO Insurance TV commercials....readily stereotyped, slightly forgotten and easily marginalized. Little wonder that just as there are few atheists in foxholes, there are even fewer Democrats.........and I should know, I was once both.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
legalize, legalise, decriminalize, decriminalise, legitimize, legitimise, legitimate, legitimatize, legitimatise
And of the word "delegitimize":
tr.v. de·le·git·i·mized, de·le·git·i·miz·ing, de·le·git·i·miz·es
To revoke the legal or legitimate status of.
Yesterday I listened to an interview that the Vice-President, Dick Cheney gave to Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto. Cavuto invited a former U.S. senator from the loyal opposition to comment on the Vice-President's remarks. This former senator continually refered to the jihadist thugs in Iraq who are killing our sons and daughters, and murdering Iraqi citizenry with horrific impunity as "insurgents". The rhetorical drift of his wordplay was to delegitimize our rationale for being in Iraq.....which is to fight terrorists and Terrorism. What he neatly glossed over is the fact that Iraq is a sovereign nation with a duly elected government....a government, however flawed and imperfectly evolving, that has asked us not to leave quite yet.
What this former politician has also managed to do, in delegitmizing our presence, is to legitimize the status of our enemies from terrorists to insurgents. Although an insurgent isn't quite up to the legal pedigree of a lawful belligerent, it is a sight better than a mere terrorist. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's deft propogandist excelled at this sort of slight of hand.......Final Solution is ever more palatable than Holocaust. The fact that the Islamic terrorists in Iraq, as elsewhere, are doing any and all manner of heinous depravities on a minute by minute basis apparently pales in comparrison to the politically expedient need to grant them an upgrade in status by delicately decriminalizing their tactics and methods. The strategic victory and ongoing tactical incentives the loyal party of opposition is handing the enemy is incalcuable.
Vice-President Cheney voiced the opinion that the upsurge in US and Iraqi deaths in the run-up to the mid-term election is a calculated effort on the part of the enemy to influence voting here in America. The Dems may not see themselves as the ultimate manifestation of broken American will and resolve, but the enemy most assuredly does. Net result.....GIs and Iraqis die, even as CNN and politicians attempt to capitalize on the very garbage they are being spoonfed by a savy enemy.
As if that weren't enough......another U.S. senator yesterday publicly delegitimizes our GIs serving in Iraq with the following statement:
“You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
Our courageous sons and daughters, volunteers and legal belligerents all, are now lowered to some dreg-like mercenary status; not quite criminal, but certainly well on the way. Hey little Billy, stay in school do your homework and you won't grow up to be a .................... (you fill in the blank).
So there you have it; terrorists legitimized into insurgents, and our citizen soldiers, sailors and Marines delegitimized from dedicated patriots into losers and slacker miscreants straight out of The Dirty Dozen. (I would like to extend the benefit of the doubt to the two senators alluded to in this rant, but I can't; both attended Yale and both are law school graduates. They are cut from the same bolt of cloth and have made words, with all their ramifications and power, their life's work.) Well, at least the rest of you can do your homework, study hard, wash behind your ears and make an effort to vote well next Tuesday. Me? As the salutorian of the 1971 graduating class of Salisbury High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania I can't wait to get back to Iraq and away from pesky ole Mom and my homework.
(Speaking of Iraq......Sergeant Battles has posted more drawings.....man is he good!)
Saturday, October 28, 2006
At anyrate, Mr. O'Reilly gave Mr. Maher thirty seconds to make his (predictable) point. At this juncture we'll momentarily pause as you imagine what Maher's (cue the Jeopardy Do-Do-Do-Tum-De-Dum music) well nuanced cutting edge theory on religion and the world might possibly be.
After listening to his thirty second diatribe, and believe me that was plenty of time, I felt as if I knew Bill Maher.......thirty plus years ago in college. He may have actually stolen his idea from me, although I probably filtched it from a college professor in order to later impress a date with the size of my very big open educated sophmoric mind. At anyrate (drum roll please!), here it is courtesy of Mr. William Maher's big intellect......Religion is the cause of all the death and destruction in the world. Religion is mental illness. Well Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler must be breathing a collective sigh of relief in the seventh level of Hell.......godless systems ARE the way to go after all. Herr Marx, your "opiate of the masses" concept lives on in the risen Maher!
He adroitly dodged a pointed rhetorical question posed by O'Reilly about the sanity of Mother Teresa, and to his credit, acknowledged Rosie O'Donnell's assertion on "The View" that American Christians are as dangerous as Islamic jihadists is patently absurd.
Now if we could just do something about those pesky volcanos, germs, stray asteroids and the incessant dictatorial demands of time and gravity....hey, maybe Mother Nature, just like Mother Teresa, just needs some quality time with a good shrink.
What I found most interesting about Mr. Maher was the fanaticsm of his belief......which, dare I say, reeked of religious fervor and a condescending smarter-than-thou elitist mentality. A mentality that perhaps has more to do with the failings and horrific transgressions of any worldview, philosophy or religion than the actual precepts of any such system. A very human failing every religion cautions against.......pride and it's wicked cousin, arrogance.
Whoa, time to climb down off this rapidly elevating soap-box. I am reminded by the angels of my better nature that those without sin should cast the first stone......and as at least one of my readers will surely counsel me....the kettle should not be calling the frying pan black. So, Mr. Maher, forgive me, I'm off on this beautiful Saturday to do my penance....two rolls of quarters and a couple weeks worth of laundry.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I'll be heading down to Cuba the end of next week for short visit to produce art of the Marines who guard and patrol the environs around GITMO. Because I won't be in town for the election November 7th I went ahead and voted this past week up at the Fredericksburg town hall. I won't tell you how I voted, but I will give you a hint. A good pal of mine, a retired Marine gunny, forwarded an email to me last week....maybe some of you have seen it.....the gist of it simply says that in the world there are three types of folks; sheep, sheepdogs and wolves. Well, this old sheepdog certainly didn't cast his lot this mid-term election with a certain political party that would do well changing it's mascot to a sheep. I hope all you fellow sheepdogs and sheepdog breeders get out and vote. As for you sheep......the slaughter's down the road to the Left.
With today's posting are images of a work-in-progress titled "Danger Close". If you think you know why I picked that title leave your explanation in the comments section.
Danger Close: oil on canvas, 20x16, work-in-progress
Danger Close: under-drawing
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Sunday, October 15, 2006
During my four War on Terrorism tours I've spent several lovely afternoons with EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) teams. There's nothing quite like a really good explosion to make one appreciate chemistry. EOD guys, like Navy Seabees, are surely among the most unsung heroes out on the frontlines. Everything the grunts discover EOD has to blow up. They stay busy, very busy.
Today's painting shows two of these professionals getting charges ready to blow an insurgent cache in the hills above Hit, Iraq. This cave, probably carved by eons of water flowing down to the Euphrates, was accessible from a single sinkhole opening. They prepped massive charges of C-4 and then suspended them from metal rods laid across a series of half a dozen jagged holes blown open to gain greater access to the underground labryinth. A good time was had by all.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Operation Steel Curtain-Lull in the fighting, enough time for a fresh "dip" of chewing tobacco
In a few minutes I'm going to put out a couple days worth of cat food and leave the bathroom tap on just a smidge for my little buddy, Roddy. I'll also load the car with a Nike overnight bag, a few things on hangers and little 3 day packback with art supplies. The cat, HATES to travel, and all this stuff going out to the car will send him scurrying to one of his favorite hiding places. Little does he know he's staying home this time.
The Federal Government does this wonderful thing a couple times a year......4 day holiday weekends......in the military we affectionately call them 96s. The one that started today at 1200 is for Columbus Day.....thank you ! Thank you Chris for sort of discovering America. My Dad gave me a book way back in the early 60s called They All Discovered America. Seems every one and his brother discovered this side of the planet long before our good Italian explorer and I found myself believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy long after any illusions about Columbus were dispelled. Perhaps what Columbus is celebrated (or loathed) for is not so much for his gift for exploring, but for his gift for promoting.
My plan is to spend some time with my daughter in and around her college in Pennsylvania (at her invitation no less) and enjoy the Fall scenery in rural Central Pa.; hence the art supplies.
I leave you with a new portrait drawing and the current state of a work-in-progress called Guardian Angel.
Monday, October 02, 2006
I have a large folder with pictures of Marines tagged as prime portrait material. I'm presently working on a couple oil paintings and part of that process is waiting for the paint to dry, or at least set up tacky enough to move on. My oils are based on a simple technique called fat over lean. Early stages are painted with oils thinned with turpenoid and drying medium. Later stages involve thicker applications of paint. A couple pieces I'm wrestling with are in final stages.....so the paint is more direct from the tube and hence takes longer to set up. To fill the down time I've decided to start a series of finished graphite drawings based on these photographs. The images almost all are from times out in the goo when sitting down and doing a life drawing is simply out of the question.
Today's drawing shows a Marine squad leader (note the microphone) taking a quick look at his guys during a momentary lull in the fighting last November in Husayba, Iraq. After looking at this face think about the twenty-somethings you see at the mall....there's no comparison.
Post-entry: Several weeks ago one of the good readers of Fire and Ice posted the comment "When will we stop praising the warriors, and praise the peacemakers?" in response to the post Wounded Warrior. It is quite evident here at Fire and Ice that I, and many of our readers, celebrate warriors....especially in light of the current unfolding historical struggle with Islamofascism. Today, Tuesday, via a wonderful blog called Dr. Sanity, I read a revealatory commentary by Victor Davis Hanson, and the good Doc's accompanying thoughts. Both of these accomplished and lucid thinkers have articulated how the self-proclaimed peacemakers of today's world, the unhinged left-leaning world of feel-good-wishful-thinkingocrats, have both created and nurtured not peace, but the conditions for war. What stands between us and the caliphate chaos of Islamic fanaticsm is not George Soros, MoveOn.org, the DailyKos, the Democratic Party, Code Pink or any other slice of the left's soft underbaked marshmallow pie, but hard young men and women willing, like the Marine corporal pictured here, to strap on a gun, 60 pounds of gear and under the most hostile conditions of heat, dust and death keep reaching for another can of Old Fashion All-American Whoopass. Hanson makes the keen counter-intuitive observation that at the end of the proverbial day it'll be NASCAR guys keeping the legacy of the Age of Enlightenment alive. You're either with these kids or against 'em.....which is it? Drivers, start your engines!
Friday, September 29, 2006
Today's been both interesting and productive. When I opened my email this morning I found an inquiry from the cartoonist Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury website. On or about October 8th they plan on launching something called "The Sandbox". Here's the description given to me by their representative:
"Welcome to our command-wide milblog, featuring comments, anecdotes, and observations from servicemembers currently serving in OIF and OEF. This is GWOT-lit's forward position, offering those in-country a chance to share their experiences and reflections with the rest of us. The Sandbox's focus on is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. The Sandbox is a clean, lightly-edited debriefing environment where all correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted. All content, no matter how robust, is secured by the First Amendment."
Much like the New York Times' TimesSelect website's Frontlines section and the BBC's Radio5 Live, I've been invited to contribute, which I've agreed to do. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Doonesbury at the moment, but in the interest of keeping the dialogue open between the right and left I'll gladly participate. At some point the healing in our body politic has got to start.
Today President Bush gave a very spirited speech to the Reserve Officers Association. I found myself saying "Amen, brother" quite a few times. Hey George, please add my name to your comment today to GOP leaders, "I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney and Warrant Officer Mike Fay are the only ones supporting me."
Here's a finished drawing I started yesterday and completed today.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Guardian Angel-Detail of a work in progress (oil on linen)
Here are two pieces I worked on today. The Marine Corps is a pretty diverse organization. I'll let them speak for themselves. Enjoy.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Those of you who've been sharing this journey with me for awhile will recall that I was promoted to Warrant Officer last December 1st by my nephew, 1st Lieutenant Richard "Joey" Fay, at the headquarters compound of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (2/7). We held our little ceremony at sunset and then returned to the battalion COC (command operations center). Within moments of entering the building frantic radio traffic began to flood the COC. All around the battalion's AO several other promotion ceremonies were also taking place, and at one of them an IED had just detonated with deadly and horrific results. Ten Marines were dead and there were scores of severely wounded.
My nephew, Joey, was the battalion adjutant....think of him as the human resources director. In his capacity as "adj" he was at the eye of the storm. He was up all night and well into the next day identifying the KIA and the WIA, doing all the necessary paperwork and initiating the chain of events that would eventually lead to families being notified of the correct status of their loved ones.
One of the Marines wounded that day,Lance Corporal Joseph M. Grady, is the subject of today's image. The other images is another of Winslow Homer's Civil War pieces, "Our Watering Places".
Thursday, September 14, 2006
At the moment I'm working on a series of portraits of Marines currently undergoing intense medical care and rehabilitation. These images are the result of visits back in mid-August to both Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals. The project, as it has evolved, will result in four portraits, each depicting a different type of wound. Hopefully they will round out the comprehensive combat art collection exhibit that will grace the grand opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Our first day was spent at Bethesda, and Sergeant Herman was the Marine NCO-in-charge conducting the morning formation. He quickly organized the guys willing to be sketched and photographed, and identified a quiet well lit space to use as a make-shift studio. Sergeant Herman has been enduring almost two years of multiple facial reconstruction surgeries.
We couldn't have crossed paths with more fearless individual. I remember studying his face as I was doing my initial "you guys are still in the fight and we want to capture your experiences" orientation speech. What really, in hindsight, drew my eye to him was his eyes and the light that rose up in them as I did my little mission brief. This NCO clued in and went to work immediately implementing a plan to accomplish my commander's intent.
In the final analysis what made our trip a success was the fearless and unvarnished emotional availabilty of these Marines. Sergeant Herman instinctively knew that the history of the War on Terrorism was now written in the bold and unmistakeable scars on his face and head, and was unashamed. Let me also go so far as to say that in these scars (which he ryely assured us has not interfered with his romantic life) are writ great words of hope and glad promise for all Americans. At the end of the day our nation, despite the ephemeralilty and expedience that seem to permeate present times, still produces Sergeant Hermans.....folks imbued with timeless values, courage and endurance.
Herman is the personification of William Ernest Henley's poem Invictus, which I leave you with.
OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
This is my cat....yes, I'm a cat guy. His majesty's name is Roddy. Source of the name....no idea, my daughter picked it out. I wanted to name him Whitman. At anyrate, judging by the way he saunters back and forth across my drawing table with regal impunity, Roddy, unlike many of the kind followers of Fire and Ice, is unimpressed by my doodlings. Thank you all for your support and compliments.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
Today, five years into World War Three, there are those of us who remember that 9/11 was a highly planned deliberate act of war and not some ill-concieved criminal anomaly. We've acted accordingly and have taken the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan, and more importantly, against Terrorism itself by toppling Saddam Hussein (once the planet's #1 state sponsor and utilizer of Terrorism....he was the WMD!) and initiating the difficult, but necessary process of introducing democracy into the heart of the Middle-East.
Today, five years into World War Three, 2,662 American GIs have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 329 in Operation Enduring Freedom. Our American homeland has not been attacked again and numerous attempts to do so have been thwarted. The Taliban of Afghanistan and the Baathists of Iraq have both been defeated and two new fledgling democracies are emerging slowly but surely on the world political scene. We are pressing forward both militarily and in the realm of political ideas.
Today, five years into World War Three, there are those who are in denial. There are American politicians and citizens who believe the answer to confronting Islamofascism is to cut and run militarily and ideologically from the battlefield, to remove essential arrows from our quiver needed in hunting down and nipping terrorist plots in the bud and to generally ring ones hands in the face of our enemy's bellicosity, ingenuity and resolve. Yet somehow they want us to believe they would be fighting this conflict smarter and stronger.....perhaps with as much zeal as they've fought NSA wiretapping, money transfer tracking and ABC's Path to 9/11.
Today, five years into World War Three and one year into this blog, I, and hopefuly you, know what my beliefs are. I've been there and done that. Perhaps the current administration has made mistakes and miscalculations...so what? That's the nature of war and the messy unfolding of history. No one's digging up the bones of FDR because Pearl Harbor was bombed, Corregidor and Wake Island fell, German and Japanese civilians were immolated by the hundreds of thousands in fire bombings, or because thousands of US citizens of Japanese decent were relocated to internment camps. As they probably would have told naysayers, heeldraggers and second-guessers back then, "it's war stupid".
Today, five years into World War Three, the enemy believes they are winning. What do you believe? The answer to this question has more power than any other force on the planet.
As for me.....to the 2,996 innocents who perished at the hands of evil on September 11, 2001 and to my brothers and sisters-in-arms who have willingly given and will continue to give their last full measure in this noble and just cause, I say we will not forget, we will not become faint of heart, we will continue nametaking and heartbreaking in celebration of your lives, and in unrelenting defense of our way of life. To those, due to political expediency, plain studpidity, deliberate ignorance, or any combination thereof, who are in denial, we will continue to press forward despite you. To you, whom I refer to time and again as moonbats, you the highly placed and educated elites mired in delusional conspiracy theories, spineless idealism, misdirected hate and anti-Bush blame-America angst...you who are the greatest economic and educational beneficiaries of 4,000 years of Western Civilization's advances and institutions, yet who have become apologists, aiders and abetters to the very people who will at the end of the day hack your heads off without blinking an eye....upon you the cumulative efforts of Civilization, upon you every dime spent by your parents on your care, comfort and education, upon you the risks taken by your immigrant ancestors to make it to our shores have been a complete and utter waste of their courage, thoughts, hopes and calories.......to you and not the enemy I extend my most heartfelt disdain and disgust. You are parasites. History will speak of you in the same breath as the Copperheads, Vichy French, and Neville Chamberlain.
To my fellow Americans....celebrate and sleep well....you are safe on my watch tonight (please go watch and listen to this wonderful music video by Marine Major Mike Corrado). God Bless America. Semper Fi.
Postscript: I just had to go over to Daily Kos and see how moonbat central is taking note of 9/11. Unfortunatley I didn't wrap my head with a sufficient amount of duck tape....so be forewarned, lest your head explodes too.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Several weeks ago, within days of each other, I did two things. First, myself and fellow combat artist Sergeant Kris Battles went to both Bethesda and Walter Reed to meet and sketch brother Marines undergoing intense healing and rehabilitation. Second, I went completely ballistic on a local moonbat who evesdropped upon, and then inserted himself univited into a conversation I was having at my beloved local coffee shop with someone else about the fighting between Israel and the terrorist thugs of Hezbollah.
Sergeant Battles and I went to great lengths to insure that our presence at both major military medical facilities would not be seen by our wounded warriors as intrusive or self-serving. (One of the senior Marines revealed that they guys are pretty burned out by the daily presence of Congressional aides who come fishing and probing for problems that their bosses can then make politcal points by fixing.) The officers and senior NCOs at both facilities did a great job of briefing the Marines and making it possible for us to visit under the radar. We were introduced at each facilities' morning formation and took our cues from the Marines themselves. Our message to them was simple; you guys are still in the fight dealing with your injuries and we want to capture that for future generations of jarheads. The majority of young Marines, most with multiple amputations and disfiguring wounds, courageously stepped up to be drawn. A few just weren't ready and we respected that. All, however, willingly spoke about their current tribulations and future hopes. The experience for Battles and I was both humbling and inspirational.
As for the moonbat.......typical and predictable stuff, but coming on the heals of two days with America's finest it had on me what I call the Popeye effect....I've had all I can stand, I can't stands no more! Here's the gist of the confrontation. My buddy Tom asked me what I thought about what was going on in Lebanon. My reply was simply that Israel, like us, is currently restrained by the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, which the thugs over at Terrorist Inc, aka Hezbollah, are not. At which point the middle-age moonbat dressed in black and sporting a ten inch long goatee, interjected that the US threw out the LLW and the GC a long time ago and that torture, among other things, was now the official military policy of the evil Bush administration.
Now I had just spent two days with Marines who by and large had been maimed by terrorist IEDs while either escorting a convoy or out on a foot patrol. I've been out on dozens upon dozens of these same convoys and patrols and they all begin with the same thing, THE BRIEF. The brief contains many critical bits of information, not the least of which are the rules of engagement, ie.; Law of Land Warfare and Geneva Convention protocols. The troops are reminded time and time again how to treat enemy combatants while at the same time respecting the locals. To assert that we, the US military, are now using terrorist tactics as a matter of broad policy is asinine........and I told him as much..........and more.
In the course of our exchange I admittedly baited this gentleman, who is a social studies teacher at a local high school. I asked him if he thought 9/11 was an inside job.......he's not sure, might have been. Since he stated that Bush was evil I wondered whether he felt that the terrorists, to include Iran's President Ahmadinejad and his pursuit of nuclear arms, were evil as well. His answer was revealatory. My moonbat would agree that what they did was occassionally evil, but they were not, unlike Bush, evil. I queried him on this point several times, and he simply refused to call terrorists evil. He offered up as proof of Hezbollah's non-evil legitimacy the fact that 14 year old Lebanonese boys are flocking to sign up. I guess that probably means that the Bloods, the Crips and MS-13, since they no doubt attract 14 year olds, are legitimate as well. There was more to the exchange, but nothing unpredictable....same old worn out conspiracy theory and Bush Derangement Syndrome stuff.
Why share this with you? These two experiences sum up my state of mind of late. I am so proud of and inspired by my fellow Marines in particular and by all the folks in uniform in general. But that is offset more and more by the absolute political chaos here at home, as personified by the goateed guy in black at the coffee shop. We're at war and the unfortunate fact that a sizeable segment of our republic doesn't get that is simply amazing to me. The witnesses at the coffee shop assure me I devestated the moonbat's positions, but so what? As long as a large group of educated and influential citizenry in this nation are in denial about the nature of our enemy, and by extension denying our collective political will of their much needed presence, I don't see how we can prevail in the long term against an enemy as evil and as determined as any we've ever faced.
I leave you with a quote from the Bible that speaks to me of the guys at Bethesda and Walter Reed.
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.
LCpl Richard J. Robinson by WO Fay
Sergeant Ryan G. King by WO Fay
LCpl Joseph M. Grady by WO Fay
Cpl Estaban Diaz by Sgt. Battles
Cpl Andrew Ingram by Sgt. Battles
LCpl Patrick W. Howard by Sgt. Battles
Saturday, August 12, 2006
I found this political cartoon over at Dr. Sanity and just had to share it with you.
A little while ago I watched a sparring match on Fox between former Senator Dennis Deconcini (Dem-Arizona) and a conservative commentator. Senator Deconcini was given the opportunity to state what the Dems would be doing different in the War on Terror, and he rose to the bait with a now predictable litany of Bush-is-the-problem talking points. Five years into this War, after waiting on a Dem's response innumerable times, two facts are very clear to me; 1. Our homeland hasn't been attacked again. 2. The Democrats have no plan. I believe the essential difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is simply this: Republicans believe that the key event at the dawn of the 21st century was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the Democrats believe that it was the Supreme Court decision handed down in Bush v Gore on December 12, 2000 destroying their hopes of regaining the White House. Bush is determined to fight Terrorism and the Dems seem determined to fight Bush.
I'll leave you with a passage from Warfighting (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1).
Decisionmaking is essential to the conduct of war since all actions are the result of decisions or of nondecisions. If we fail to make a decision out of lack of will, we have willingly surrendered the intiative to our foe. If we consciously postpone taking action for some reason, this is a decision. Thus, as a basis for action, any decision is generally better than no decision.
Since war is a conflict between opposing wills, we cannot make decisions in a vacuum. We must make our decisions in light of the enemy's anticipated reactions and counteractions, recognizing that while we are trying to impose our will on the enemy, he is trying to do the same to us.
Time is the critical factor in effective decisionmaking-often the most important factor. A key part of effective decisionmaking is realizing how much decision time is available and making the most of that time. In general, whoever can make and implement decisions consistently faster gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage......
I will leave it to each of you to decide for yourselves on which side of the political aisle these words and ideas resonate deeply, and on which they ring hollow at best and at worst not at all.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Mooi's portrait is essentially finished. When it dries I'll be adding the image of a Navy Cross in the upper left hand quadrant.
I'll be off-line for a few days. Tomorrow will find me conducting training for The National Museum of the Marine Corps' docents. As soon as that is wrapped up I and my Nissan Xterra, filled with about a thousand dollars worth of yet to be assembled IKEA furniture, head north to my daughter's new apartment in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, the home of her new college, Shippensburg University.
You've probably noticed that I haven't commented on the current situation with regards to Israel and their campaign against the terrorists entrenched in Lebanon. The Hezbullshit flying around the media and the world of partisan politics is simply amazing. CNN trotted out one of their "experts" to extoll the civic virtues of Hezbollah, which apparently has a social services arm that is both extensive and the the lion's share of it's activities. This shameless PR piece had moving testimonials of mothers recieving pre-natal care, and interior shots of medical clinics complete with little kids sporting head bandages. I'm imagining one of their social workers visiting a new mother with a case of free baby formula... "Mrs. Al-Janabi, what a beautiful son you have, and this picture of him in his little suicide vest, how adorable!....oh by the way, we'll be storing another dozen Katyusha rockets next to the RPGs in your basement, hope you don't mind. We really appreciate letting your husband park the launcher under the baby's window. See you at the Death to Israel rally Friday. Ciao."
All this ongoing moral equivalency brings to my mind Daniel Day-Lewis' gang leading character, Bill "the Butcher" Poole, in Gangs of New York, who divided his days between butchering pigs, and cutting up rivals (pigs, as he affably explained with familial warmth to Leonard DiCaprio's Amsterdam Vallan, being excellent subjects to practice on with respect to inviscerating people.)
I am also reminded that Adolf Hitler loved his dog...so freak'n what! Hezbollah is a terrorist proxy of Iran...everything else is mere window dressing.
Israel is in my prayers.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
I'm working on a portrait of a Marine I served with during Operation Steel Curtain in Old Ubaydi, Iraq. His name is Lance Corporal Joshua R. Mooi and he's been nominated for a Navy Cross as a result of his heroism on November 16, 2005. The Navy Cross is second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Mooi, a native of Bolingbrook, Illinois, is as quiet and unassuming a young man as you'd ever hope to meet. On this fateful day he personally pulled most of the members of his squad, and his platoon commander out of an enemy infested death house in Old Ubaydi. Virtually all of them, save Mooi, were wounded and dying. His rifle took three hits from AK-47 rounds as he repeatedly went back into this hornets nest of mujh, bent over and dragged his buddies out. Survivors testified that Mooi, besides latching onto buddies, shot into and threw enemy hand grenades back into spider holes.
It is honor to have met and spent time with him. It was like rubbing elbows with Sergeant Alvin York. Get some Mooi!
From: Philip L Kennicott Sent: 8/1/2006 11:57:36 AM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: your blog
Just thought I'd send a note to say I think you may have read more of a "swerve to the left" in my architecture review of the Marine Corps museum than I intended. I put "the dangers of empire" in parentheses, and didn't necessarily mean it as you've read it, ie. that the US is an empire, or imperialistic. The previous sentence mentioned democracy and "the vulnerabilities of democracy" and the temptation to empire is definitely one of those vulnerabilities, don't you think? No sooner had the Athenians established the preeminence of their democratic system than they were tempted by the dangers of the Delian league. I hoped that the "dangers of empire" would be read as I wrote it, generically. The Marines know these dangers because they've fought empires, the Japanese included.
Philip KennicottCulture CriticThe Washington Post1150 Fifteenth St. NWWashington, DC 20071.
From: michael fay Sent: 8/1/2006 12:31:48 PM To: email@example.com Subject: Re: your blog
I appreciate that you took time to email me. My reading of your final "dangers of empire" did not, nor does it now come across as generic. I think you made a very good point with regards to the failure of our system to educate folks on most things historic. The temptation to empire is a legitimate course of thought, but adding it to the end of piece (even in paranthesis) did not cap off your reporting, but rather came across as a raised eyebrow, and re-cast everything you wrote in a questionable light. Garnishing your piece about The National Museum of the Marine Corps with it was in my opinion unnecessary at best, and politically motivated at worst. I do not personally know you, but I'm well aware of the left leaning drift of The Washington Post. As I said in my blog, this type of rhetorical flourish is completely appropriate within the context of a op-ed piece, but within a journalistic, or even a critical review such as yours, it spices up the content beyond mere analysis or reporting. None-the-less, I really appreciate your explanation. I hope you will entertain my opinion that it is a far more loaded phrase, especially during our current historical unfoldings, than you intended.
Best Regards, Mike Fay
With further reading of Mr. Kennicott's explanation to me I found myself taken aback more and more by his references to the Athenians and the Delian League, and Marines fighting the Empire of Japan. The reference to Japan, the sole empire Marines ever engaged in combat with, unless you include the British in both the Revolution and the War of 1812, struck me as grasping at straws. Marines have been historically engaged in "small wars". Last time I read about WWII I don't think the "vulnerabilities of democracy" pushed Japan (or either Germany or Italy) to attack Pearl Harbor. Temptation to empire wouldn't exactly top my list of the vulnerablities of democracy. Do you think Attila the Hun was a closet Patrick Henry? Perhaps I missed this in college history class.....Ward Churchill no doubt covers this sort of thing in his lectures.
The reference to the Athenians strikes me as particularly elitist. Then again, The Washington Post is probably not aiming for a blue collar Nascar guy readership. I don't know why the Delian League thing didn't just jump out at me when I read the paranthetical "dangers of empire". National Museum of the Marine Corps.....Delian League.....man do I feel dumb, how could I have missed that one!
How in the world can Mr. Kennicott believe this sort of subtle and inflammatory manipulation is generic? It's not generic.....it's elitist. Capping his article with "dangers of empire" was anything but a broad, vague or general tossing out of a neutral idea. It was specific and targeted. If anything, it made it seem as if the entire preceeding article was an excuse to give his "vulnerabilities of democracy"/"temptation to empire" thesis a forum.
Do you think if Mr. Kennicott ever reviewed The National Museum of Women in the Arts he'd end it with a paranthetical musing on PMS? Now that would be something!
Monday, July 31, 2006
The coffee shop makes available, along with the free conversation, gratis copies of several daily newspapers. Our local paper, The Free-Lance Star, is a great small town rag with a big city feel. I always read it first. The Washington Post is also available and although free, there always seems to be a price to paid for reading it.
For years I swore by The Washington Post. Today, in large part due to the orgy of spin to be found in the World A section, I find it an embarrasment. In this morning's edition that misplaced rhetorical excess and sophmoric indulgence spilled over into my favorite Style C section. I would expect what I find in it's pages in an unsupervised college paper.......not in a national mouthpiece.
On today's page C-1 an article, "Next Exit Marine Land" , about the new National Musuem of the Marine Corps and written by Philip Kennicott, appeared center page. Though not exactly a laudatory article, it was largely well written and focused on analyzing the museum's architectural elements and overall concept in relationship to the physical site and current museum trends.
Like the actual War on Terrorism, I've been involved directly in the development of The National Museum of the Marine Corps. I know all the hard work, creativity, care and attention that has, and continues to be poured by dedicated folks into this worthy project. I know what the ultimate mission of this institution is, the celebration of individual Marines and the Corps they hold sacred. Reading the words of someone who's spent one day in an unfinished structure, like the press releases of journalists far from the fighting, is always more revealatory of both the writer and their publication than the actual item or event being reported on.
Here's the final paragraph, which starts out well enough and even manages to head down the center of the road.....until the now predictable and insulting swerve to the left into the guardrail at the very end.
This is a museum about volume, energy and speed, rather like the highway it overlooks. Some people look at superhighways and see excitement, mobility and freedom. Others see anxiety, restlessness and urgency. It is the last of these, urgency, that one feels most strongly in the architecture of the Marine museum. This is an expanding country, a diversifying country, and a country that is essentially failing in the project of teaching its citizens fundamental lessons of history, democracy and the vulnerabilities of democracy. This building is put together to bring people out of their private space, in huge numbers, to teach them a little, very quickly, about the cost of liberty (and maybe the dangers of empire).
"Danger of empire"? Where in God's name did that come from? Do the editors at this formerly great institution ever read and review the work of their writers? Apparently not. Stuff like this belongs on the editorial/opinion pages, not in articles.
So now I find myself seeing this paper, The Washington Ghost, permeated by poltergeists, and absent of authentic journalists. Sad.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Friday morning I, along with 34 other Marine reserve warrant officers, graduated from our two week Reserve Warrant Officer Basic Course. My butt is officially kicked as a result of the two most intense weeks of training since boot camp on Parris Island in 1975.
Regular Marine warrant officers undergo a three month course, and all second lieutenants endure a 6 month indoctrination in all things lean and green. My hat is off to them. The training takes place at The Basic School (yes, that's its offical name) aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico's Camp Barrett.
TBS is also the primary incubation site for all major species of ticks and chiggers known to mankind, and during the summer months becomes the US military's Indian subcontinent experimental simulation laboratory. Between the removal of blood by various parasites and the loss of many gallons exercise induced sweat I've lost about 20 pounds. We had as neighbors in the barracks a company of British Royal Marines who trek here annually to train in the challenging heat and humidity of the oak and hickory forests of Virginia.
As I said, our course was only two weeks. Due to monetary constraints, reserve WOs can only attend TBS during their two week summer AT (active-duty for training). The result, only the most demanding parts of the 3 month course are focused on. Think of a fire hose being placed in your mouth and then turned on full throttle....that was our two weeks.
Our course of training focused on a core set of essential field leadership skills. We learned and put into practice operational order writing with the attendent practical patrol leading exercises through the wilds of Quantico. "Call for fire" and "land navigation" were taught with hands-on and written tests. Hand grenades were thrown and very dangerous live fire "SAW rushes" conducted. SAW (squad automatic weapon) rushes were a literal rush. A dozen of us would get in a prone position on line, squeeze off rounds, get up, dash 10 meters, drop, squeeze off live rounds again, get up, dash again....you get the picture. And all the while trying to stay conscious of the Marines to the right and left, and staying out of their avenues of fire...fun with a capital F. Boodowdow baby! Our days started with "combat hardening" PT sessions commencing at 0530 and ended, after studying for next-day exams and performing gear preparation, about midnight.
That's me in the left foreground with the big stupid cammied face grin. The terrain model was created by my fire team.
How did I do....I'm proud to say this old devildog kicked butt and took names. I scored a first class on the physical fitness test and was the class honor graduate for academics. OORAH! You can teach an old dog new tricks. More than that, this training has blessed me with deeper understanding of many of the events and evolutions I've seen and participated in out in the field. It also has granted me a basic skill set that in a pinch will allow me to confidently call in fire support, and/or lead Marines hopefully out of a tight spot or two.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Pat Dollard, gonzo documentary film making madman and honorary jarhead, will be featured Friday morning around 7AM on the Mancow radio show to talk about his experiences filming the world's finest in Iraq. His project is called Young Americans. Parental Guidance Required. Give the king of all combat media a listen. He should give Mancow a run for his money. Pat's also penning an article that will appear in a forthcoming issue of Maxim magazine.
I'm going to coin a word to describe Pat, rantastic. This guy's Ernie Pyle on acid and Michael Yon approved. He's the anti-Michael Moore. He's every journalist who's hid out in the Green Zone dependent on Iraqi stringers nightmare. Get some Pat!
Saturday, July 08, 2006
What has prompted me to write today is on page 86 of Chapter 4 of Warfighting, The Conduct of War. For me, the quote to follow captures the essential difference between the Bush administration and its detractors during the War on Terrorism. The essence of this division lies with one word, "perfectionism". Here's the passage:
"Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty, and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battle-field problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one. The essence of the problem is to select a promising course of action with an acceptable degree of risk and do it more quickly than our foe. In this respect, a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."
Criticisms of the Bush warfighting policy are drenched in the language of perfectionism. Were it left to the armchair quarterbacking second guessing everything in hindsight is 20/20 vision crowd on the Left (who's plan for fighting Terrorism and Islamofascism is still more secret than NSA wiretapping and the screening of overseas money transfers) we'd still be waiting on a response to the attacks on 9/11.
Perfectionism paralyzes action, which in crucial ways makes it the passive/aggressive bedfellow of Terrorism, and the convenient intellectual retreat of belly button fixated spineless elites. I've previously spoken on Terrorism's primary strategic reliance on instilling fear. Fear paralyzes action, and perfectionism is fear all dressed up in the chiffon of hindsight and the taffeta of cowardice. It is the immoral high ground of those unwilling to courageously take timely action in the face of making mistakes and ruffling feathers. There are many situations in life where we are dammed if we do and dammed if we don't.
The Democratic Party, in my opinion, is making a fatal miscalculation believing that the American electorate prefers it's cautionary ostrichian naysaying and inaction over Republican rashness, missteps and errors. In trying to cast Bush, et al. as decievers with heads full of rocks, they've equally succeeded in highlighing their own lack of backbone and ideas. The floodlight the Libs have cast on the Bush administration's sometimes questionable yet decisive damm the torpedoes strategy has also illuminated their chronic lack of resolve and heads bursting with fuzzy idealistic mush.
I believe we Americans viscerally understand that this nation was built and nurtured more by pragmatic risk takers than perfectionists infatuated with ideas. Decisions have to be made, and I've thrown my lot in with the dammed-if-we-doers, and not the dammed-if-we-don't boohooers.
In a previous post I talked about how the politically correct and self-serving feel good sentimentality of "I support the troops, but not the war" drips with vain pity, lacks any genuine honoring and mourning of the sacrifice of the military, and transforms our service and deaths into strategic victories for the enemy. Pity is a white flag raised in the heart and mind of another American. I add perfectionism to the list of white flag raisings. Remember, the War on Terror is being fought inside each of us, in our collective will, more so than "out there" on the battlefield. Everyday it becomes clearer where in our body politic that will is weakening, and where it stays strong, admittedly imperfect and yet perfectly resolute.
I will leave you with a second quote. This one is from Leading Marines, another of this weekend's reading assignments.
"For leaders to hold units together under adverse conditions,
they must first fight—and win—the battle within themselves."
Friday, July 07, 2006
Here's the present state of "Before the Storm". I've been working on the foreground and the irrigation ditch leading into the middle ground. The creative challenge has been to find a visual language and appropriate color palette to render the stray wheat growing in the foreground and the crumbling wall of the ditch. The wheat has full fuzzy heads of ripe grain, and the wall of the irrigation ditch has both soft soil and jagged protruding stones. Problem: lots of soft and hard edges at a time of the day, the gloam, when everything is dissolving.
I've tried to use direct and energetic brushwork to echo the mulberry tree foliage. This is done with several sizes of filbert brushes loaded with paint mixed with drying medium to a syrupy consistency. The medium I use allows the oils to set up quickly. Once the colors are almost dry to the touch, but still slightly tacky, I go back in with a large dry filbert and delicately "caress" the surface to unify the brushwork. This method avoids muddying the colors, marries the different surface areas, yet allows the basic energy of the original stokes to come through.
My palette relies heavily on the relationship between green and violet. It also takes into consideration the complimentary of violet, which is yellow. In the background a full pale yellow moon is rising in a cloudless softly muted purple sky. To keep things natural and at the same time capture the elegiac mood of the gloam, I've mixed a touch of burnt umber and cobat violet dark into almost all my color mixures. At this wonderful time of the day, which photos can rarely capture, objects take on an inner glow; I've focused on the stones tumbling out and into the deteriorating ditch, the wheat heads and the hands of the sitting Marine to communicate this evocative effect.
I hope everyone had a fun Fourth of July with kith and kin, burgers and buns, and plenty of fireworks. I saw where some folks in Santa Cruz, Kalifornia celebrated by burning American flags on the beach. Why? Just because they could. What could I possibly say that all of you haven't already thought about this yourselves? Nothing. I, like you can only shake my head. As I tell my daughter, democracy allows us to be as stupid as we want to be.
My gonzo documentarian friend Pat Dollard made it on to Fox's Hannity and Combes Wednesday night. He did a good job of holding his own, made some nice jabs a Michael Moore and looked strangely healthy.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
The email below is from USAF Colonel Brett Wyrick who is the commander of the 154th Medical Group, Hawaii Air National Guard, and is serving as a surgeon in Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group. Col. Wyrick had been sending his father, a Vietnam-era fighter pilot, emails about his experiences in Iraq:
Dear Dad, If I ever hear airmen griping and complaining, I jump into them pretty quickly, now. Most people over here have nothing to gripe about compared to Marines. Marines are different. They have a different outlook on life. One Marine Private was here for several days because he was a lower priority evacuation patient. He insisted on coming to attention and displaying proper military courtesy every morning when I came through on rounds. He was in a great deal of pain, and it was a stressful to watch him work his way off the bed and onto his crutches. I told him he was excused and did not have to come to attention while he was a patient,and he informed me that he was a good Marine and would address "Air Force Colonels standing on my feet, Sir." I had to turn away so he would not see the tear in my eye. He did not have "feet" because we amputated his right leg below the knee on the first night he came in. I asked a Marine Lance Corporal if there was anything I could get him as I was making rounds one morning. He was an above the knee amputation after an IED blast, and he surprised me when he asked for a trigonometry book. "You enjoy math do you?" He replied, "Not particularly, Sir. I was never good at it, but I need to get good at it, now." "Are you planning on going back to school?" I asked. "No sir, I am planning on shooting artillery. I will slow an infantry platoon down with just one good leg, but I am going to get good at math and learn how to shoot artillery". I hope he does. I had the sad duty of standing over a young Marine Sgt. when he recovered from anesthesia - despite our best efforts there was just no way to save his left arm, and it had to come off just below the elbow. "Can I have my arm back, sir?" he asked. "No, we had to cut it off, we cannot re-attach it", I said. "But can I have my arm?", he asked again. "You see, we had to cut it off." He interrupted, "I know you had to cut it off, but I want it back. It must be in a bag or something, Sir." "Why do you want it?" I asked. "I am going to have it stuffed and use it as a club when I get back to my unit." I must have looked shocked because he tried to comfort me,"Don't you worry now, Colonel. You did a fine job, and I hardly hurt at all; besides I scratch and shoot with my other hand anyway." God Bless the Marines!
Col. Brett Wyrick
New photos over at Eidolons!
Monday, June 26, 2006
Before the Storm (work in progress)
This is the painting I'm currently working on. Like the oil study for Storm and Stone this is oils on gessoed watercolor paper. Someone asked me recently why not paint on canvas? That's a fair question. First, preparing a sheet of watercolor paper for painting is quick and easy. Second, I like the way the brush feels and responds to the rigidity of this surface....you tend to get nice expressive brush work as the bristles interact with the hardness. With canvas the surface bows away from the pressure of the brush, which means the hairs tend to stay together and produce a more uniform stroke of pigment. With the gessoed watercolor paper affixed to the 3/4 inch plywood there's little or no give from the surface, so the hairs of the brush tend to splay out more readily producing surprising little nuances. Canvas also stretches under repeated assaults, and I've been known to over aggresively scrape out passages I'm not satisfied with resulting in a spongy and over-relaxed surface. You have the sensation of trying to run a marathon on a trampoline...not pleasant.
I've decided to put off starting the finished version of Storm and Stone until late July. I'm scheduled to attend the Basic Reserve Warrant Officer Course July 17th. The class only lasts two weeks, but they cram the entire 3 months of the Regular Warrant Officer Course into it. How can they do that? Easy, they give you a ton of professional reading to do prior to showing up. So between the reading and going to the gym to get my ancient keester in shape I realized that this was not the time to take on a major work. Instead I'm going to focus on a series of modest finished oil sketches.
In doing these sketches I'm also challenging myself to transition from "drawing" with oils to actually "painting" with them. What the heck does that mean? It means rather than laying down a highly developed drawing and then basically coloring it in, you only put down a cursory sketch and then going at it with large brushes laden with generous amounts of pigment. This forces you to conceive in terms of color and mass, rather than with line and value. Two adjustments I make, due to the normal extended drying time of oils, is to use a mixture of 50/50 light drying oil and copal medium, and alklyd white. This results in a much faster drying time, which means passages can be reworked sooner rather than later.
I don't think I'll ever be a true alla prima painter, but I want to move in that direction. A year ago I was privileged enough to meet and attend a lecture by America's alla prima master, Richard Schmid. The things this artist can do with big brushes is beyond amazing. Mr. Schmid shared an interesting personal anecdote with me, back in the early 1950s he took over the apartment that former WWII Marine combat artist Harry Jackson was sharing with Jackson Pollack.
The unfinished scene I'm sharing with you today is of a patrol base overlooking the village of Khogyani in the foothills of the Tora Bora Mountains near the Wazir Pass. We had just finished a long day of bouncing through the countryside doing a reconnaissance in force. Our main objective was to identify alternative avenues of approach for a future operation slated for the foothills of the Tora Boras on the Pakistani border.
The site selected to set up for the evening was a small terraced hillcock encircled by a chest high irrigation ditch; a perfect defensive position. Perched along this dry ditch lined with river rocks were clusters of mulberry trees. Marines spit up into twos, with one man taking watch while the other dug a fighting hole and set up their tent.
This particular evening was transcendently beautiful. Small groups of shepherd boys wandered out from the village with their flocks of goats and sheep. The air was peppered with the sound of their voices, the occassional thwack of homemade slingshots proding errant animals back into the fold, and the omnipresent hew-hawing of donkeys. The air was so still and sound carrying so far that the Marines could hold conversations easily with the listening post half a kilometer away on an adjoining hill.
As is always the case in the Middle-East, the melodic lilt of an evening prayer floated up from a mosque nestled somewhere amongst Khogyani's maze of mud daub homes and meandering walled streets. By nightfall the boys had drifted off and down in the darkening village doors and windows began to light up with gemlike warmth.
It was the calm before the storm. At about three in the morning a cyclonic thunderstorm rocked our world.