Reservist's cartoons detail burdens of desert deployment
By JASON CHUDY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 9, 2004
Bill Mauldin, meet the “Bohica Blues.”
Like the famed creator of World War II’s Willie and Joe comic strip, Staff Sgt. Chris Grant is putting pen and ink on paper to humorously capture the feelings, desires and daily routine of soldiers deployed to Iraq.
Grant, an Army Reserve combat engineer with Company B, 458th Engineer Battalion at Camp Victory North, has been drawing “Bohica Blues” since the unit’s arrival on March 15.
“By March 18, I had the first one,” Grant said. “We were the first unit here and the very first ones were specific to the 458th.”
Since then, Grant has broadened the comic’s scope to include issues affecting all Camp Victory soldiers.
“As more units came, I expanded them to include everybody,” he said.
And like Mauldin, Grant doesn’t pull punches on issues that draw the ire of today’s Willie and Joe.
Bohica, for example, is an acronym that stands for “bend over, here it comes again.”
“In the Army, there’s always something going on that seems silly to the soldier … like anytime you’re in a vehicle you need to be in full body armor. Even mechanics.” Grant said. “Maybe it makes sense to someone higher up in the food chain.
“We all know its value and wouldn’t get caught without it outside [the base],” he said. “But around here? We find humor in that. If it creates some grumbling, I like to poke fun at it.”
Grant compared the wearing of body armor to having a “personal microwave oven.”
When the 1st Cavalry Division issued orders that soldiers wear their desert camouflage uniform tops at all times, including during working details, Grant drew a comic depicting a DCU-clad skeleton face down in the desert.
As a soldier kneels over the skeleton, another calls out from a nearby Humvee, “No, as long as he had his DCU top on, it’s fine.”
“A lot poke fun at uniforms,” said Staff Sgt. Cory Chartier, who stopped to look at two “Bohica Blues” comics posted on a wall near the exit of Victory North’s dining facility.
Chartier said he’s made decisions on whether or not to eat at the dining facility based on whether or not there are new comics posted. “He’s nailed what we’re thinking … without being degrading,” he said.
Grant also tries to represent the varied makeup of today’s Army.
“I don’t want to alienate anyone,” he said. “I try to draw people in proportion and make sure different ethnic backgrounds are in there.”
And it’s the ordinary soldier who Grant wants “Bohica Blues” to appeal to.
“What he’s able to do is capture, like Bill Mauldin’s cartoons of World War II, the perspective of the soldier,” said Maj. Adam Roth, the battalion executive officer. “He takes what we hear and turns it into something you can see. It’s a great way to laugh at yourself.”
“I try to cover a little of everything,” Grant said. “In general, I keep it to a PG-13 rating so it’s something the soldiers can show to their families.”
His comics infuse every aspect of the soldier, including life “back home.”
One cartoon depicts a returned G.I. reading a “three little pigs” nursery rhyme to his son. The soldier describes the third pig’s house as being surrounded by defensive barriers and covered by air support.
“I’ve got a story right now where a character goes on leave and relates his stories back home,” Grant said.
To Mom and Dad, the soldier describes Iraq as a quiet, safe place; to his friends it’s filled with danger at every turn; to the girlfriend he’s a hero; and to Grandma, Iraq’s a place where you can’t get any good food.
Grant’s been drawing since he was a young child, becoming serious about his hobby when he was 8 and saw Star Wars for the first time. “It sparked my imagination,” he said.
When he enlisted and was stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., Grant wrote a cartoon called “Joe Rock.” Following his enlistment, he joined the reserves, working as an illustrator for a psychological operations unit. Later, Grant changed jobs and joined a tank crew, but still continued to draw.
In the 1990s, Grant wrote and illustrated a graphic novel with human-like animals as characters. He hopes to write another graphic novel in the future and would like to be a full-time cartoonist, but says there’s not enough money in it.
Since his arrival in Iraq, Grant’s been putting pen to paper nearly every day, only stopping “Bohica Blues” during a few-month stint at Camp Cook, north of Baghdad. He says he’ll continue to draw the comic as long as he’s deployed.
“I just want to give people a few seconds to laugh,” he said.