By Eric Raum
Ask a service member who has been deployed to Southwest Asia what their time spent abroad was like and you will get a host of answers. It will always have a lasting impact on their memory. After all the sand is finally out of their boots, after they have returned home and their uniform is folded neatly on a shelf, they will never forget. In the same way, even after America is gone from the Middle East and the war has ended, somewhere in the blowing winds, standing tall in the desert sand, a vivid reminder of the sacrifices these men and women have made will remain.
Large cement barriers are common on bases throughout Southwest Asia. Officially, they are called Alaska Walls or Texas Barriers depending on size. Collectively, they are known as “T-Walls” due to their upside down “T” shape when viewed from the side. Used primarily as blast protection for buildings and other
structures, T-Walls number in the hundreds on any given base. Where some see utility and function, however, others see an open canvas waiting to come to life. At the beginning of the Iraq War, it was an unofficial tradition for each unit to recruit their most artistic member to paint the face of one of the T-Walls before leaving the country—something to capture the unit’s spirit after they were gone. As the paintings became more elaborate, the procedure changed to include an approval of the design, but the meaning behind it remained the same.
Camp Buehring in Kuwait has been a staging point for troops coming in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan since early 2003. With so many troops coming through the base, it now houses the largest collection of T-Walls in the region. Literally hundreds of painted walls flank the main road that runs through the base, representing the voices of thousands of American men and women.
“These are more than just paintings on a wall, and it’s about more than just the hard work that went into the labor of making them. They are a part of military history,” said Gary Bibeau, regional vice president of Southwest Asia for the USO.
What had started as a trip documenting the art and the soldiers behind it became more about connectingpersonally with those same soldiers, hearing firsthand the stories these paintings represented. Every interview made the art come alive. Each stroke of the brush was now a soldier looking at a picture of his daughter before heading into the field for another week. Every vibrant color another soldier telling her fiancé she can’t wait to get back either, but she is serving the country that she loves and is proud to be doing so. You can run your hands over the cracking paint and picture the son who never got his chance to say goodbye, coming home beneath a solemnly draped American flag.
Every picture holds within it countless stories of bravery, courage, dedication, and sacrifice. It is fitting that they are painted on a canvas of steel reinforced cement. Its permanent nature echoes everything our military represents. While each could stand on artistic merit alone, the art is a humble reminder of the cost of our freedoms and the commitment of our Armed Forces.
Stories in this Series
Dec 18, 2010
Medal of Honor Recipient Says It's Not About the Individual, It's About Team
Medal of Honor recipient says, "When someone calls me a hero, they had better call all my buddies heroes. I didn’t do anything outstanding. I just did my part to fill that gap of time to help complete the picture."