Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office
Kentucky National Guard leaves its ‘Mark’ on Kuwait
FRANKFORT, Ky. - For Kentucky National Guard aviators stationed in Kuwait, there is some form of relief to the sand and sun … just a small piece of bluegrass.
Then again, it’s not real bluegrass and it’s not exactly small.
Found among bright sun and sand it’s a painting of the new Kentucky Unbridled Spirit Brand. Painted on a concrete barrier that’s six feet tall and 10 feet long, the spelling of Kentucky in bright blue and the symbolic horse head bring the soldiers back to their Old Kentucky Home.
Specialist Chris Vaught painted the brand on the barrier. The practice of marking a unit’s presence has become tradition at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, where Vaught and other members of the 63rd Aviation Group, based in Frankfort, are currently stationed.
“I thought about painting our unit patch first, but then I just thought about the new logo and decided that was something that really related to home,” Vaught said.
Vaught, a native of Versailles and Eastern Kentucky University student, claims he isn’t an artist. This painting, on such an unlikely canvas, was his first attempt at any form of art. He used paints leftover from another unit’s masterpiece on another concrete barrier.
“I painted because it was something to pass the time, and I figured it would show everyone on base who was here,” Vaught said.
But Vaught had no idea what he would create would become a centerpiece for conversation.
“One day when I was painting it, a formation of Marines was moving by and two of them broke out of formation and ran to the barrier. ‘You’re from Kentucky?’ the Marine asked me and I said ‘yeah this is our state logo’ and he said ‘I know, I’m from Richmond and my buddy here is from Bowling Green,’” Vaught said.
“So the painting isn’t just for the 63rd (Aviation) it’s for all the Kentuckians at Camp Buehring,” he added.
Vaught said he misses the friendliness of Kentucky. “You always feel welcomed. No matter where you go, people smile at you or wave. Not that people in other parts of the world aren’t friendly or welcoming to others, but Kentucky is just different.”
Several other soldiers, airmen and Marines from Kentucky found themselves also missing the overwhelming sense of hospitality found here in the Bluegrass.
“We’d find each other and chit-chat about home and our families and the things that we all had in common just because we we’re from Kentucky. That always makes you feel a little better when you’re homesick,” Vaught said.
Twelve members of the 63rd Aviation Group, based in Frankfort, volunteered for the Kuwait assignment last year. Currently 10 members are still on deployment in Kuwait and each aviator plays an important roll in the daily operations of Camp Buehrang. The unit assists with training airmen who will enter Iraq as well as monitoring airspace over Kuwait. The unit was mobilized in April 2005 and has been in Kuwait since July 2005. The aviators are projected to return to Kentucky sometime this summer.
Spending a year away from family, friends and Kentucky has been hard for the aviators.
“Although the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq have a natural beauty, nothing compares to the grace and beauty of Kentucky,” Chief Warrant Officer Dean Stoops, of Frankfort, said.
The mission has taken the Kentucky aviators from Mosul, Balad and Baghdad in Iraq, to Bahrain and an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
To document their travels the aviators have relied on photographs sent home via e-mails to their families. Vaught thought his painting would be just another photograph.
“For me, it was a privilege to do it. I thought we could take our picture by the painting and have those to look back on our 2005 deployment,” Vaught said.
“I didn’t think in a million years it would have this much effect,” he said, noting that the concrete barrier has attracted a few signatures from other active duty Kentuckians stationed on the base. “Now it’s like a yearbook.”
Just last week, thousands of miles from Kuwait, the painting made yet another impact on one Kentuckian.
While recuperating from a recent illness in Lexington, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher was shown a photograph of the Kentucky Unbridled Spirit Brand and the members of 63rd Aviation smiling against a desert sun.
“The 63rd Aviation Group exemplifies Kentucky’s Unbridled Spirit. These men and women make daily sacrifices so people in the world are able to experience a freedom and spirit of their own,” Governor Fletcher said.
“We are so proud of our soldiers and airmen in the Kentucky National Guard as well our sons and daughters on active duty stationed around the world,” he said. “The commonwealth supports you and thanks you for your service.”
Aviators from the 63rd Aviation Group based in Frankfort, are proud of Specialist Chris Vaught’s painting of the Unbridled Spirit Brand on a concrete barrier at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The painting is a conversation piece among fellow Kentuckians serving in that region.
Pictured, left to right, are: Col. Benjamin Adams III, Lexington; Chief Warrant Officer Dean Stoops, Frankfort; Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Copas of Shelbyville; Lt. Col. Aaron Barrier, Versailles; Staff Sgt. Merrit Whitelow, Lexington; Maj. Brian Abney, Berea; Staff Sgt. Marshall Hehl, Lexington; Chief Warrant Officer Mark Grapin, Falls Church, Va.; Lt. Col. Greg Long, Crestwood. Spec. Vaught took the photograph.