Artist honors Fort Campbell's 5th Special Forces Group with drawing
August 26, 2011
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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Aug. 26, 2011 -- Imagine being presented with a single sheet of paper. Within that two-dimensional realm, 20x24 inches in size, you are asked to tell the entire 50-year story of a military special forces unit. It is up to you to encompass a legacy that spans half a century and includes some of the most significant military operations in modern American history.
Now imagine being told you're not allowed to tell this story with words.
What would seem like an impossible mission to most is just another typical work day for artist, graphic designer and former Soldier, Frank Allen. Working from his home base of New Albany, Ind., Allen specializes in designing specialized prints for military units around the country.
Normally, Allen is commissioned for his works. However, in December 2010, he approached Fort Campbell's 5th Special Forces Group about designing a print to commemorate the unit's 50th anniversary.
"I took the project on myself," explained Allen. "I called the unit and asked for the meeting. I just wanted their blessing out of respect, because it's not all about me. It's about the unit."
Allen's ties to the military go beyond artist commissions and his own years of service.
"I've always been around the military," said Allen. "My father was a three-war veteran: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He told me that he'd always wanted a son to join the military."
Honoring his father's wishes, Allen joined the Army. His first nine years of service would be spent as an armored crewman, working on Abrams tanks. During this time, Allen was also using his artistic skills to do artwork for his unit.
When he transitioned and became a multimedia noncommissioned officer, Allen felt as though something was missing.
"I was leaving something hardcore like working on tanks and combat arms, which I loved," said Allen. "Transitioning from that to computer graphics and freehand graphics was tough. I wanted something more challenging."
In an effort to challenge himself, Allen moved toward special operations, taking an assignment with a Psychological Operations group at Fort Bragg, and eventually going to jump school in 1993.
"I was no longer just a graphic designer, I was also a paratrooper," said Allen. "It made me feel good."
He then spent a year with military intelligence unit in Korea. When it was time for him to return to the United States, he was asked where he wanted to go.
"I told them I wanted to go back into special ops," said Allen. "They told me there were only two choices available: 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment or the 5th Special Forces Group."
With that, Allen became a member of 5th SFG, lending his combined expertise to the unit for eight years. It was within the structure of 5th Group that, from a military perspective, Allen found a true home.
"They give you enough room to be a professional and do things on your own," said Allen. "It's very professional, but the structure, discipline and morale there is unlike any place else. You feel like you're part of a team in that environment."
Within that team environment, Allen spent years designing a variety of prints and projects for his unit, depicting various training and combat scenarios in flawless detail.
In 2004, Allen retired and pondered what civilian life would hold after so many years of military service.
"When you retire, it's hard just to leave all of that behind and start as a civilian," said Allen. "You're starting over, just like starting a new career and a new life."
Allen decided to make a civilian career out of his artistic abilities. He has been commissioned for projects by military units The Golden Knights Army Parachute Team and the 160th SOAR.
Allen says he always puts 100 percent into his designs.
"I always try to give my customers more than they expect," said Allen. "You don't give the bare minimum. You always try to achieve what you've done before, and even try to do a little better."
Allen wanted to bring that level of dedication to the 5th SFG anniversary print. Recreating 50 years in a single drawing took months of preparation.
"The research takes longer than the drawing itself," said Allen. "What you have to do is highlight major events. What I try to do is show the core mission."
Once the project was complete, Allen shared his vision with his former unit, and was happy to receive a warm reception.
"I was really proud to do this print for the unit," said Allen. "Even though I'm out (of the Army), this was my chance to give something back. Because there's obviously not a lot of talk about their heroic actions, I figured I could show everyone with my drawing, and do so in a positive light."
When the drawing was made into limited edition artist proofs, Allen donated print number five to 5th SFG.