As mentioned here last week, Washington Post artist Richard Johnson is currently embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, covering the U.S. drawdown in a unique way. He already has numerous sketches from the war zone up on his blog, Drawing the World Together, with many more to come.
In a post up today, he shares his experience witnessing the memorial service for Army Spec. Brian Arsenault, 28, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division who was killed Sept. 4 in Ghazni province. He was part of a force that had been inserted by helicopter into villages near Forward Operating Base Ghazni to look for insurgents and was hit by small-arms fire near the end of the mission, Johnson reported. He describes witnessing the service and drawing its flag bearer, Staff Sgt. Brian Arbuckle, thusly:
Ramp ceremonies are almost always held at night, and at different times during the night as a precaution. They are attended by hundreds of soldiers and there is nothing the Taliban would like more than an opportunity to target such a large visible gathering.
We had a couple of hours to wait, and I spent it with the regimental flag bearer. I asked Arbuckle what it is like to stand up there at a point of such emotional intensity. “I feel it is a pretty important thing to do, especially when it is one of our own … I really don’t want to mess it up … it can be pretty nerve-racking,” he said. “But when it is someone closer to home, someone in our formation … we are kind of like a family.” He added, “Other than that, it is like everything else in the Army, you are told to do it and you go do it.”
No cameras are allowed at ramp ceremonies, so I left the runway with the image of Arbuckle frozen in my mind. When the ceremony was over and everyone else from my group hit the sack, I got to work and created a sketch. In it, Arbuckle is silhouetted against the black Afghan night with regimental colors held aloft, lit only by the glow from inside the rear doors of the C-17 Globemaster, where the flag-draped casket of Spec. Brian Arsenault is lying. Arbuckle stands with the flag moving slightly in the breeze as a pair of F-16s on afterburner scream up the runway, while a formation of at least 400 soldiers stands with heads bowed in respect to a fallen comrade.
Johnson also shared this video, recorded on a helmet camera, of him drawing while on a Army Black Hawk helicopter:
Here’s the final result of that drawing: