By Private 1st Class Donte' Gordon
TF Lifeliners, 101st Sustainment Brigade
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan, December 7, 2010 - Just days after the "Transfer of Authority" ceremony, the 101st Sustainment Brigade began remodeling, redesigning, and revamping the Brigade headquarters.
An integral part of that success derives from the talents of Spc. Paul Bernal, an ammunition specialist of Alpha Company, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
"Painting, art, designing in any artistic form, is something I love to do," Bernal said.
The Dallas, Texas native began "tagging" at the age of 15, a term many graffiti artists use to describe their way of displaying art. After having many run-ins with the police, Bernal was told by authorities to express his talents in a more productive manner.
"I was getting into a lot of trouble, and they told me to be more constructive with my talents instead of being involved with the law," he said.
Bernal took their advice to heart, working on his craft and molding himself into a professional 'Fine Tuning' airbrush and painting artist.
"I didn't actually get into Defining Arts until I was 20. At that time, people began paying me to design their children's rooms, and that's when my future got brighter," Bernal said.
Bernal joined the United States Army in 2003, not knowing they'd embrace his gift.
"I had no idea the Army was going to allow me to exploit my talents. I always pictured the Army as being a very stern, gritty organization, pretty much against what I love to do," Bernal said, looking as amazed and shocked the day he found out using his gift was accepted.
"They've embraced my talents, and encourage me to continue," he said.
Bernal began multiple airbrush and painting projects for the Lifeliners in December, displaying various designs inside and outside Brigade headquarters. The "Death Star", the nickname given to the Lifeliner's compass symbol, is a focal point of Bernal's multiple projects.
Bernal also began decorating the brigade's command parking spaces, under the direction of current Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. David Thompson. Thompson was the former 626th BSB command sergeant major.
"He's very diligent," Thompson said. "He ensures his assigned tasks are complete for taking on any personal projects," he said.
"I have pushed him to stay in the Army and become promotable. He'll make a fine noncommissioned officer," Thompson said, nodding his head in certainty.
"I do a lot of my projects for units," Bernal said, scrolling through his iPod for the next song.
As Bernal worked on his assigned tasks, he dressed himself with a focused persona. He puts on his iPod, drowning out the sounds of hammers, nails and sidebar conversations, and zones in fully on his own work. Bobbing his head, Bernal carries on his mission with hip-hop melodies in his ear.
"A lot of times, I don't get paid. I'm either rewarded a coin, or not rewarded at all. In the end, it's about doing what you love to do. To me, that's worth more than anything money can buy. To me, it's about gratitude, honor," Bernal said.
Bernal is on his third combat deployment, the second with the 3rd BCT. He has received 26 coins during this deployment for his artwork, raising his total stash to 65.
"I'm a big fan of coins," he said.
"The biggest coin I've ever received was in the shape of an axe," Bernal said, holding up his hands, separating them as if he were measuring it. "It was given to me by a Brigadier General. He said he'd given it to me "for making the 4th Infantry Division logo look immaculate", Bernal said, smiling from ear to ear.
As Bernal continued to display his skills for the Lifeliners, he began to talk about the many influential people in his life, encouraging him to continue his hard work and dedication.
"My biggest supporter has always been my wife," Bernal said. "She's even encouraged me to open up my own business," he said.
"The eldest of my twins, Ariel, is already at a level that I wasn't when I was her age. Her mother encourages her to follow my every move. She already has a drafting table, including all of the art materials she wants," Bernal said.
Bernal began telling more stories of his projects, highlighting some very interesting moments.
"I hand painted a logo for a company in an Aviation Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas. Without even being completely done, the command sergeant major told me I had to paint over it, telling me it counted as graffiti. The very same day, he called me into his office, sat me down, and wanted me to paint the same logo on his wall," Bernal said, laughing hysterically.
As Bernal began to set up for his next project, he began to talk about life after the Army, pointing out that he's a fairly talented tattoo artist as well.
"I feel as though it's my duty as a soldier, a husband, and a father to complete my initial term honorably," he said. "When I'm finished here in the Army, I'll continue to use my talents abroad. This time, I'll be the solution, not the problem."
(editor's note: Bernal has earned over $6,000 for his art work, the largest bidder offering 450 dollars for one project. )

Page last updated Sun December 12th, 2010 at 08:21