Monday, July 20, 2009

US Marine Depicts 'Art of War' in Afghanistan

In this 2006 file photo, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Kristopher Battles, a combat artist, draws a sketch of the commanding officer of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, resting in Habbaniyah, Iraq, Nov. 18, as a fellow Marine watches. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Adaecus G. Brooks.)

Dispatches from the Front:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELHI, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, July 20, 2009 -- Geared up with his wood and leather stool and an array of brushes and paints, one Marine makes the mundane extraordinary.

Sgt. Kristopher J. Battles, 41, one of only two combat artists in the Marine Corps works for the National Museum of the Marine Corps and is an activated reservist serving on the front lines of the War on Terror. He paints pictures of daily life under the threat and presence of enemy fire.

"He's a renaissance Marine," said CWO-2 Michael Fay, combat artist, National Museum of the Marine Corps. "He seems mild mannered, but he can shoot expert pistol and rifle."

Battles, a Hermann, Mo., native, joined the Marine Corps in 1986, worked as a computer operator for Headquarters Company, 24th Marine Regiment in Kansas City, Mo., and eventually became a combat correspondent for the Public Affairs Office there. At the time, combat art fell under the hierarchy of public affairs, so he slowly made the switch from writing to painting.

Even before becoming a Marine, Battles had a great ability to record the world around him on paper. From the time he was 5 years old, he loved being able to create art.

"While other kids were shooting hoops, I was doodling," said the 1991 Northeast Missouri State University graduate.

Battles left the reserves in 1996 and spent the next 10 years living as a "starving artist," as he puts it. He also made a missionary trip to Haiti from 1991 to 2001.

"I worked various and sundry odd jobs to pay the bills but I always focused on my art," said the former bank teller, but the Corps was never far from his mind.

Surfing the Internet one day, Battles saw Fay's blog which displays Marine artwork and decided it was time to come back. He sent Fay a link to his own blog and asked if he'd take a look.

"People send me pictures all the time. The majority are somewhat disappointing," said Fay. "But when I saw Sgt. Battles' work, I was blown away. When we found a world-class artist, we wanted to bring him aboard."

"I wanted to publish my work and serve my country. It was a win-win for me," Battles said. "I waited for my ship to come in, and I got on board."

Combat artists have been in the Marine Corps unofficially since World War I and most of them were officers. In 1942, the Marine Corps offered enlisted Marines their chance to depict life at war, a unique stance from the other services. Marine artwork by Marines has since been seen in magazines, newspapers and galleries all over the world.

Today, Battles continues that legacy, and his works can be seen in galleries and published in Leatherneck magazine.

"He has an amazing ability to capture the moment," said Fay. "The Marine Corps never dies. It's the imagery that keeps us alive."

After nearly 60 days here with the Marines of the Regimental Combat Team 3, Battles will soon be traveling back to Quantico. He expects to have completed, museum-quality paintings and sculptures based on his sketches and observations ready for display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps some time next year.

A record of modern-day Marine life depicted on canvas or cast in bronze may be seen by millions of visitors for years to come, all from the works of this one Marine.

(Report by Sgt. Scott Whittington, Regimental Combat Team 3.)

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