Soldiers team up to paint mural

Story and photo by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

BRUCHMÜHLBACH-MIESAU, Germany — Soldiers at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern recently transformed an ugly concrete wall at Miesau Army Depot into a mural honoring a longstanding friendship between Germans and Americans.
Last year, because of security concerns, the Army diverted depot traffic and built a blast-resistant wall, said Col. Richard Jordan, commander of the 212st Combat Support Hospital. Colonel Jordan knew the wall protected the nearby Child Development Center, a preschool program for Army families, but he never liked the way it looked. He envisioned it covered with children’s artwork.

“We took advantage of the situation to paint a picture of unity that stands as a memento to our community,” Colonel Jordan said. “We’re saying ‘this belongs to us.’”

Colonel Jordan’s vision reached local German and American schools, where children drew ideas of friendship between their countries. Hans Schenkel, a local German artist, combined their sketches to design the mural, Colonel Jordan said.

Spc. Peter Oratowski, an operating room specialist with an art background, oversaw the painting. One night in late May, Specialist Oratowski began the project using a computer projector to trace the concept onto the wall. Since then, volunteers from the 212th CSH and Soldiers from the garrison’s Better Opportunities For Single Soldiers program put in long hours, mostly during their free time after work.

“It’s been great to get my hands in paint again,” Specialist Oratowski said. “It’s been a real challenge to paint. But we’ve got a great team and it’s been a lot of fun.”

During a June 10 ceremony, U.S. and German officials unveiled the mural – a symbol of German and American friendship. Denise Miller, deputy to the garrison commander, said the effort says something important about those who serve in our Army.

“There’s a lot of hidden talent,” she said. “The whole team did a lot of work pulling all the different types of artwork together and that really stands out.”

For the past two years, Colonel Jordan’s unit was busy redesigning their hospital to mobilize quickly and partnering with medical units from Britain, Germany, Bulgaria and Romania. The command’s relationship with the local community, however, remained a priority, he said. 

For decades, the Army maintained good relations with Bruchmühlbach-Miesau, including longstanding support of the community’s annual horse show. Earlier this year, Colonel Jordan’s Soldiers raised money for a German kindergarten to buy developmental toys.

Bruchmühlbach-Miesau Mayor Werner Holz said he welcomed Colonel Jordan’s idea to paint the blast wall.

“The fact that American and German students join together for an artistic event is a great expression of cooperation and a very suitable tool for fostering relationships,” the mayor said.

For the Soldiers who worked on the mural, the job was a chance to do something outside their normal duties.

Pfc. Patrick Crowe stumbled upon the painting crew one evening. The 25-year-old medic never painted before, Specialist Oratowski said.

“He grabbed a brush and has been coming out to help ever since,” he said.
Wearing faded desert camouflage cutoffs and a BOSS T-shirt, Spc. Nicholas Yoncher, a Company B medic, grabbed a pizza slice in one hand and dipped his paintbrush with the other. He reminisced about murals he helped paint for church back home in Nikiski, Alaska.

“Art has always been an interest. Before now, I didn’t do it much in the Army,” Specialist Yoncher said. “We should do more things like this.”

Storm clouds were the Soldiers’ enemy. They defended their artwork from sudden rainstorms, scrambling over the wall to drape plastic sheeting over the emerging mural. Soaked amid sun showers, they laughed and joked with each other. Painting was tough at times, but each agreed that it was a lot fun.

Working through suppertime, the Soldiers frequented the pizzeria just outside the depot gate. There, they practiced speaking German and learned an important word, “Mannschaft” – the German word for “team.”

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Specialist Oratowski said. “But we did it as a team.”