Graphic Marine drawing conclusions in Iraq
Submitted by: 3d Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification Number: 200442235244
Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

AL ASAD, Iraq(April 22, 2004) -- The two Marines at the watchtower surveyed the desert expanse squinting to protect their eyes against the bright rays of the midday sun. Their gear was set up perfectly, and each Marine's M-16A2 service rifle was locked, loaded and ready for any enemy attack.

One Marine pointed out in the distance where something, or someone, was stirring the desert sand off in the distance, while the other lifted his rifle to his shoulder in preparation for anything.

A third Marine sat inconspicuously to the side capturing the entire scene, with quick strokes of a No. 2 pencil and sketchbook.

The Marine is Sgt. Kenneth E. Farmer, a combat illustrator with the Marine Combat Assessment Team, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, here.

As a combat illustrator, the Grants Pass, Ore., native, claims pencil and paper as part of his combat essentials.

"During exercises and times of war, we go out and draw sketches to get a feel of what's going on," Farmer said. "I take that feeling and put it into my pictures."

Sgt. Jeffrey K. Thompson, air task order chief, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, explained that Farmer's job sounds simple enough.

"He is an illustrator," he declared. "It's his job to capture everyday life through drawings. He either draws from pictures he takes or does combat sketches at the actual event."

The emotion that goes into the drawings is the reason the Marine Corps sends its combat illustrators into combat, Farmer clarified.

"We capture the feeling of the environment in the artwork," the 25-year-old said. "(We do this) so a viewer can look at it and get a sense of what (the) environment is like."

Combat illustration is not a job that someone can just walk in off the street and do for the Marine Corps, Farmer noted. The person has to have some talent to begin with.

He said that his road to become an illustrator for the Marine Corps was a long path that started from his childhood.

"Ever since I can remember, I've been drawing," he said. "It started with drawing animals when I was young and progressed to things like comics as I got older."

It was later, in his teen years, while attending Grants Pass High School that the artist began to seriously think about using his art as more than just a hobby.

"In high school I learned to draw realism," Farmer stated. "I learned the importance of it. It led me to continue to improve my drawing skills."

After high school, the new graduate figured that he would put his study of artwork on hold for a few years. When he joined the Marine Corps his doodling quickly got him noticed.

"I was in (recruit training) and one of my drill instructors saw a drawing I did," he remembered. "He yelled at me first, of course, but then they had me paint our range flag and all the drill instructors' cover blocks."

The new Marine was assigned to 7th Engineer Support Battalion at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. There his skills were quickly put to work not only as a bulk fuel specialist, but also as an artist.

"My (officer-in-charge) used me on field operations to draw overlays of our fuel farms," he explained. "He also had me make terrain models."

Farmer said he was used as an unofficial unit artist throughout most of his first enlistment, and when the time came for him to re-enlist, it seemed as if the Marine Corps had set aside the perfect job for him.

"I was in Korea when one of my staff sergeants told me about an opening in the graphic arts field," he recollected. "My career planner told me I had to submit a portfolio of my work. It was approved and I re-enlisted."

A few duty stations later, the official Marine combat illustrator found himself here, with a camera in hand. Drawing was second nature to Farmer, but the camera was something that he knew little about, yet needed for his job.

"If I take my own photographs, I can draw what I want (from the photo) instead of hoping to find (what I want) in someone else's photos," he explained. "I received a quick (tutorial) on how to use the camera, and was fortunate enough to learn a lot in an afternoon."

Ideally, the artist said he prefers to draw an event as it happens.

A question he is often asked is why the Marine Corps would have artists around when they have photographers.

Thompson said he realized the difference in having an artist around after spending only a few short months with Farmer.

"Sometimes, a drawing can capture an emotion better than a picture," the Livonia, Mich., native explained. "It's not just a duplicate of the original, but an interpretation of what's going on."

The 32-year-old reserve sergeant explained that Farmer's artwork is important to the Marines out here in the field with him.

"It does a lot for the unit," he noted. "It makes it seem that we're doing something so important that they have an artist out here to capture it."

"When people see themselves in his drawings, they get a sense of pride," he continued. "When he spends his time drawing you, it makes a lasting impression."

For Farmer, he said that artwork is a way for him to go within himself.

"Art for me has always been an escape," he said. "It's where I can go to get away. I don't think about anything else."

"If you're drawing something you're passionate about, it's easy to do," he continued. "If you love art, it's not about easy or hard, you're just drawing."

Farmer realized that being an artist is the perfect job for him. He said that his devotion to his country has lined up with his talents, making it a winning combination.

"I wanted to do something for my country," the artist concluded. "I never thought I'd be drawing (history). It's something most artists never get to do. It's a once in lifetime opportunity."

Sgt. Kenneth E. Farmer from Grants Pass, Ore., quickly sketches his interpretation of Sgt. Mark T. Embriani, of Reading, Pa., March 28. Farmer, a combat illustrator with the Marine Combat Assessment Team, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, is here to capture visual imagery, pictures and drawings of Marines in action throughout the Al Anbar province of western Iraq. The 25-year-old artist uses his artistic skills to provide the Marine Corps with drawings to be used for products such as training, briefs and investigations. Photo by: Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

Sgt. Kenneth E. Farmer from Grants Pass, Ore., adds more detail to the initial rough sketch outline of Sgt. Mark T. Embriani from Reading, Pa., who is writing a letter home to his family in Al Asad, Iraq, March 28. Farmer is a combat illustrator with Marine Combat Assessment Team, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. His job is to capture everyday Marine life while at home and abroad. Combat illustrators have been used by the military since the Civil War. Photo by: Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte