The Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan has the “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci painted on a wall. The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City displays the work of Michelangelo on its ceiling. At an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, two Airmen from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing display their artistic skills on concrete barriers around the base.
Tech. Sgt. Thomas Young, 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron avionics production supervisor, deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy, recently added a little color to the best described as ‘bland’ scene of a deployed environment.
The artist first channeled his creativity into a work of art when the 379th EMXS commander put out a call for ideas to decorate a squadron barrier.
Young based the centerpiece of the barrier on the squadron’s moniker “Blue Genies.”
“Since we have armament and maintenance, we came up with an explosion cloud behind him, a wrench in one hand symbolizing maintenance and a [munition] in the other hand symbolizing the items they work on over in armament,” said the Orange, Calif., native.
Once he secured the commander’s approval, Young started to track down media to bring his creation to life.
“It’s not like you can really run down to Home Depot and pick out whatever color you need,” he said. “At civil engineer self issue, we grabbed a whole bunch of colors — every color we could find — because we didn’t know how exactly we were going to get it to happen.
“With some experimenting, we just started laying down a picture, took the initial sketch, blew it up on the concrete, and started from there,” Young said.
The next obstacle to tackle was finding something to paint with.
“Again, there is not a Home Depot or an art store readily available and I didn’t have the chance to go downtown to find anything, so we just had to make do with what we had,” said the self-taught artist. “We had some cleaning brushes that we tried to use as paint brushes, but they didn’t work out too well. So, we just went over to the shoppette and grabbed some sponges, Q-tips, and basically finger-painted to lay down all the color, with a couple of Sharpie markers to do some fine edging.”
Once the scavenger hunt for paint and tools was complete, Young then had to find time to paint the project.
“We could only work on it maybe an hour or two a day which kind of made it a hassle,” he said. “But the good thing with that one is we moved it right over there to the storage shed we have next door, so we could pop out and work on it every chance we got.”
Between mixing and remixing paints, and repainting portions to match, the project took him a little more than a month to complete — just in time for the squadron’s change of command ceremony.
“The commander had actually seen the progress, liked what it was and wanted to see it done before he left,” he said. “It came down to the wire. We were able to knock it out just in the nick of time, get a lacquer clear coat over it and get it over to the change of command area.”
Since then, the barrier has been a backdrop for two reenlistments and a flight photo. It currently sits in front of the Manhattan Dining Facility in Ops Town. The barrier hasn’t gone unnoticed by wing leadership.
“I think everyone gets that feeling when you see the barriers that they tell a story about where that barrier is, who it represents, and what that unit does and gives a personality through the art,” said Chief Master Sgt. William Harner, 379th AEW command chief. “Things like this improve the aesthetics of the base. “We want to have a professional environment — we want motivational, positive images around the base that build people up.”
Young’s most recent painting was done with the help of Staff Sgt. John Roys, 379 EMXS C-17 Globemaster III avionics team leader, deployed from Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
“I didn’t want to let Sergeant Young take all the time to do it and I knew how difficult it was,” the South Bend, Ind., native said.
Roys, who had never done any drawing or art work before, said it was something new, something fun to do and he was able to bring a second set of eyes to the painting.
The second barrier art is currently displayed in front of the Independence Dining Facility in Coalition Compound and features the Statue of Liberty in front of an American flag.
“[The DFAC staff] had the general idea,” Young said. “By using just the face of Liberty and a waving flag in the background it allowed for, in my opinion, a more pronounced statement,” he added
“After all, as military members we are each a face of freedom,” said Roys.
“I’m just proud. That’s really the only word I can use about how I feel and how proud everyone else feels when they see it it’s our flag that’s freedom,” said Roys.
Young says he has fun drawing and sketching and as a side benefit they’re great stress relievers.
“Sketching is a good way to take your mind off of stuff,” he said. “It helps take your mind off of something else by being able to put detail onto a piece of paper.”
“It’s great doing barriers because you’ll see it all the time,” Young said. “There are people that are going to see it long after I’m gone.”
Senior leadership also recognizes the hard work and determination that goes into the barriers.
“I think it says ‘Hey, someone cared enough to take the time out of their day to design, get the supplies and actually spend time to paint the images on the barriers’,” Harner said. “I think it’s just one example of the parallel talent that everybody has in the Air Force.
“I believe there is a treasure trove of talented people through woodworking, art, writing, singing the national anthem — and that’s why we try to encourage people to look around the base to see where they can plug those additional talents in and enhance our base, enhance our activities and enhance what we do,” the chief added.
Young has drawings displayed in galleries in Sedona, Ariz., some of which have been on display for more than a decade. He also helped paint a break room during his previous assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
“My mom kind of laughs about it too,” Young said. “She says I’m leaving my mark everywhere I go.”