'Black Jack' brigade leaves history imprint on FOB Warrior
July 15, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq- A lone mural stands in front of a large wooden building where the modern day members of an old order of cavalryman still work together, in spite of danger, to make the world a safer place. This is a new frontier-not unlike the Old West where U.S. cavalry Soldiers once roamed-a place of danger and adventure, a place where the cavalry still protects the innocent.
Although now worlds apart from the Old West, the Soldiers of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, can catch a glimpse of what it once meant to be cavalrymen whenever they visit their brigade headquarters on Forward Operating Base Warrior, and see the mural that the hard work and dedication of three men brought to life.
The mural, which is painted on a large concrete barrier, is no small piece of art. It took about two weeks to finish and portrays cavalrymen in typical fashion riding horses across the Midwestern plains.
"It shows our history," said Spc. John Lenaghan, a Fairbault, Minn., native and a forward observer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd BCT, and the lead painter for the mural.
The idea was for Soldiers to see it and think "Wow, I'm proud to be in this unit," explained Sgt. 1st Class Leo Davis, a Woodward, Okla., native and also a forward observer with HHC who assisted in painting the mural.
For Lenaghan, this project was far larger than anything he had painted before.
"It was the biggest thing I have ever worked on," he said. "It was so large that I needed two other guys to help."
Fortunately Lenaghan had two reliable artists he could count on: Davis and Sgt. Michael Chandler, a San Diego native and forward observer with HHC.
"I knew they were both really good artists," he said. "It was a really good team effort."
The fact that this team of painters is comprised of forward observers was definitely no coincidence.
"Our job takes a certain level of artistic talent, because you have to perform terrain sketches so that the Soldiers firing artillery have an idea of what stands between them and the target," explained Davis.
But before they became forward observers, and long before they were painting murals, both Lenaghan and Davis were interested in the arts.
"I really got into it in my pre-teen years," recalled Davis. "It helped me relax."
Davis started taking art classes early on, which helped refine his skills and teach him some new ones.
"I've used paint, charcoal, chalk, airbrushes and more in the past," he said. "But I really enjoy putting pencil to paper and making art that way."
Lenaghan had also been making art for most of his life, and plans to continue doing it, deployed or not.
"We are going to paint a modern day version of this mural that will show what it means to be a cavalry trooper now," continued Lenaghan. "And I am also going to assist in painting an 80-foot-long cavalry patch."
The planned projects will have a lot to live up to, though, since this mural has become iconic of the brigade's headquarters.
"Every time we turn around, someone is up there taking a picture of it," said Davis.
The Soldiers of the brigade use it as a backdrop for promotions, reenlistments, and for photos when important people visit.
For Soldiers aspiring to paint their own unit's mural, these Soldiers had a few words of advice.
"Practice," said Davis. "Find a subject you like and start with it. It probably won't turn out the way you want it to the first 10 times that you try, but have patience."
"And don't forget that it is really easy to fix your mistakes when you are painting, just wait for it to dry and repaint it, which we did a lot of," joked Lenaghan.