Before I get too far here, here is how I came to find myself privileged to work with Clayton “Hero Maker” Murwin. Back on October 31st 2006, my wife took me to Fairbanks International Airport very late in the evening, our young son Isaiah was dressed as a little Polar Bear, and it was snowing. My beautiful wife Mary and I were on the verge of tears, as I was getting ready to spend six of my last seven months in the Air Force deployed to Iraq the second time. I was set to deploy as an augmentee from the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron to our detachment based out of Ft. Richardson which would support the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division Combat Team (Airborne). I was augmenting because a few months earlier, the brigade the 3rd ASOS supported had been involuntarily extended in Iraq for four additional months (the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team) and our personnel were in the mix as well. Being one of the few Airmen around, who had supported the 172nd for the first half of their planned rotation, I was back in the US and had been home a few months, and without enough personnel to support 4-25 ABCT in our Detachment, that left me and a couple other Airmen to fill in the gap.
Life felt like it really was beginning to suck badly. After all, I'd signed up for the 11 month extension when I got stationed at Ft. Wainwright while I was in Korea so I'd have enough time in my enlistment to be stationed in Alaska. So, the Air Force decided to thank me by sending me to Iraq during that extension! Like all branches, but the US Army, most Airmen deployed for only six months at a time, and I'm thankful for this. However, life as a TACP began to mean six months deployed, and a few months back, and repeat as needed... I found myself working with a brigade I'd never trained with, and was put on night shift in the Brigade Tactical Operations Center on FOB Kalsu doing radio watch at night. This meant a twelve hour shift staring at computer screens monitoring the communications networks on the Classified version of the Internet using a Chat client, and listening to the radios we had set up. Iraq had a curfew, and during the rainy winter months the locals and foreign terrorists typically kept their activities to the day time (truly, fair weather fighters!). I only really got excitement when the mortars and rockets would come in, mostly rockets due to the fact they could set them up in day to fire at night.
I had time on my hands, and I made the best of what was a bad situation personally. I did what I'd learned to do long ago in idleness while needing to be present at a location. I took paper, pencil, and pen and began to draw cartoons. I drew them about everything from international/national/state politics to local FOB politics. I believe I can truly claim to have helped instigate positive changes to midnight chow after one of my cartoons was published by the PAO in the “Spartan Sentinel” (4-25 ABCT's Brigade Newsletter)... The men and women I worked with at night encouraged me and gave me some ideas, and we maintained my cartoons in a binder at my work station by my radios and computers, and we dubbed that binder “The Morale File”. When my rotation was ending in May 2007, I left copies of my cartoons in The Morale File and brought my originals home with me. I promised the men and women I worked with that someday, some how I was going to publish these cartoons professionally in a print form. To this day, I still have the originals, dusty and coffee stained, sitting in acid free archival portfolios.
Sometime in late 2008, I joined the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Of America Community of Veterans social networking site. I'd never really been able to find an outlet for my cartoons yet, and indeed I was, and am, still working on perfecting my art and finding a solid outlet. While I was there I found a post by Victor Castro, an aspiring comic book artist and OIF/OEF veteran himself, looking for other Veterans to contribute stories to a project called “Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan”. I contacted Victor, and he put me in touch with Clayton. Instantly I found a place to publish my cartoons from Iraq! So I took my old scans, and sent them to Clayton as samples. Clayton graciously accepted my work, and asked for me to pencil some cartoons so he could have comic book industry inkers finish them! On top of that, this book was meant to be a fundraiser, not a profit maker. All of it going to Wounded Warrior, Fischer House, and other organizations (Clayton was working with the USO, not sure if they were still able to receive support from this project or not...). So here was my chance to keep a promise I made to soldiers and airmen I worked with, and do so in a manner that would support the men and women who sacrificed so much for our nation, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I could honor the living and the dead, and be part of something bigger.
I've gotten to know Clayton quite well over the almost three years I've been on board with his project, and Clayton has been nothing but a passionate supporter of Veterans and their families, as well as a mentor and motivator. Since I've been on board, I've met some amazing artists, and two brother combat veteran artists. Clayton has been working hard to assist me in making one of my dreams, to be a professional cartoonist, a reality as well as giving me a good constructive direction to use my talent. One of the men who has motivated me to have the goal of publishing 52 weekly comic strips is Clayton Murwin, even if he didn't know it at the time! As a Combat Veteran Artist/Cartoonist with two tours in Iraq, I can personally vouch for Clayton's integrity and devotion to supporting Veterans and their families without desire for personal gain. I know this well, as he has done so much for me and my family.
Please, take a moment to review C.J. Grisham's (http://www.soldiersperspective.us/2010/11/06/hero-maker-under-fire/) article on what Clayton faces, and the massive obstacle put before the publication of Clayton's work, and a dream so many of us share. All of this, over a simple mis-understanding over a Memorial, and a couple of political opportunists! Please pray for Clayton and send him words of encouragement. When I calm down enough, I'll be contacting folks in Virginia on behalf of Clayton. I ain't afraid to throw around my four combat patches to do either! If I could afford to do it, I'd do it in person, I'd stand beside Clayton no matter what.
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