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Art can flourish even in war.

A group of Misawa airmen is adding a bit of color to its sandbox-tan environment at Balad Air Base, Iraq, before they come home.

Airman 1st Class Anthony Dragich of the 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and Tech. Sgt. John Alsvig of the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron were among airmen who volunteered to paint murals on concrete barriers to show squadron and unit pride and to build esprit de corps, said Lt. Col. Chuck Toplikar, 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, in an e-mail from Balad.

The painting began almost immediately upon the 14th’s arrival in January, but was delayed by lack of paint supplies, Toplikar said.

Dragich, who works in the squadron’s life-support section, wrote a few art supply stores in the States about the project, he said by e-mail.

One company responded with more than 140 tubes of oil-based paint, 40 acrylic tubes, brushes, palettes and linseed oil.

Dragich meshed different ideas together to create an abstract collage, he said.

A fighter jet carrying bombs is the centerpiece of his work, which includes brilliant blue, red and green hues.

He incorporated painting into the down time of his duty day, volunteering for the project to help pass time, boost morale and give the “dull Iraq tan-colored lifestyle” some flair, he said.

Being outside while working on the mural was risky because of mortar attacks, he said.

“But that was the least of my worries. I’m not going to come out here and live under a veil of threat,” Dragich said.

“By instilling that in ourselves, we’re rewarding insurgents.”

Alsvig, a fuels specialist, said unit pride motivated him to paint. Creating “the biggest and best looking mural … for other units to see” leaves quite a footprint, he added.

Alsvig painted a stylized Samurai based on fighter jet tail art, drawing on his memory of facial designs from the floats in northern Japan’s famous Nebuta Festival.

Other parts of his mural include Mount Fuji and the sunburst from the Japanese battle flag.

Alsvig devoted about 150 hours to his mural, painting both on and off duty.

“I did most of the work in between maintenance surges and flying operations,” he said by e-mail.

His work was interrupted on occasion to scratch a mosquito bite or to pick up a paint cup knocked over by jet wash from taxiing aircraft.

“Knowing that it is a symbol of our accomplishments [during] this AEF is an awesome feeling,” he said.

The 14th Fighter Squadron and supporting units deployed to Balad for the current four-month Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation.

The 13th Fighter Squadron soon will replace them.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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