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Marine Corps Recruiting Command

Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

3280 Russell Road, 2nd Floor Quantico, Va. 22134
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Depot's own combat artist continues legacy

By - | | August 22, 2003

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Without the aid of any camera or high-tech broadcast equipment, one Marine completed a very unique mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom, telling the Marine Corps' story with nothing more than a sketch pad, pencils, some charcoal and a very deep love for art.

In America's most recent war, Sgt. Jack M. Carrillo, combat artist, Marine Corps Historical Division, was the first enlisted Marine assigned to the region with the specific mission of creating combat art.

"It was a huge honor to be selected for this mission," said Carrillo. "It was a dream come true to be able to use my art and ability to tell the Marine Corps' story and be a part of something that's bigger than me."

Carrillo, formerly assigned to the Depot's Combat Visual Information Center, was augmented by Historical Division, Headquarters Marine Corps, for the distinctive mission in January, not long after becoming the first enlisted Marine to design Marine Corps uniform plates.

Carrillo made a name for himself within the small community of Marine combat illustrators after rendering the paintings of Marines wearing the Corps' new combat utility uniforms.

He headed to Kuwait in January anxious to let the inspiration flow and do what he says he does best: create art.

"It's like a nervous twitch," said the 32-year-old, brown-eyed Marine. "Some people tap their fingers or chew on pencils; I have to draw. It's what I do. It's something inside me that always has to get out. Any time, any place, any situation, I'll throw down (art)."

Prior to departing for Kuwait, Jack Dyer, curator of art, Historical Division, briefed Carrillo on the expectations of his mission.

"Jack told me he would not tell me what, how, or when to draw, only that I was to be a hustler, get as close to the action as possible and document through art, the climate of any given situation. With those simple instructions, I set out to do exactly that," Carrillo said. 

He arrived in Kuwait to find he was operating very much on his own. His mission became one of adaptation and improvisation as he slowly found the connections and resources needed to accomplish his mission.

By the time the war began, Carrillo had joined a team of Marine 'storytellers' who fell under the same command as he did. A fairly well-equipped crew of Marine videographers quickly adopted Carrillo and formed a small combat visual information team.

The CVI team, still needing a parent unit to fall under, found themselves attached to Company D, 1st Tank Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, for the operation to liberate Iraq.

It didn't take long for Carrillo to find himself completely absorbed in the front lines of the war with a constant barrage of inspiring images to "throw down."

"I tried to capture anything I thought was historically significant or things I just connected with as an artist," he said. "If I thought something had a good story, I tried to capture it and tell the story."

Carrillo said there were times when he became frustrated because he couldn't capture certain aspects of his surroundings, such as the smell of burning palms and twisted metal, or the sound of stray Iraqi dogs barking throughout the night.

Carrillo, whose art experience includes a lot of work in graffiti art, said he found himself driven by the fast-paced nature of his mission and environment and related it to the spirit of graffiti art.

"The spirit of street art inspired me," he said. "It's fast-paced, in-your-face, create-it-and-go art," he said. "Any graffiti artist has the potential to be a great combat artist. I love that spirit." 

Carrillo channeled that spirit consistently, throwing down his art in various locations throughout Iraq. From Kuwait to Baghdad, and eventually further than that, he created more than 150 sketches of everything from female mechanics working to Iraqi prisoners to tank battles.

Like everyone else, Carrillo experienced the constant challenges combat presents. On the second day of the war, the Humvee carrying his equipment drove into a swamp and overturned during a fire fight in Al Basrah. The majority of his art supplies and equipment was damaged beyond salvation, but Carrillo overcame the mishap and carried on with five sketch pads, some pencils, graphite and charcoal.

"All my watercolors and paints were trashed, but in a way, it simplified the way I executed my mission," said the 6-foot Marine. "You have to adapt and overcome in that environment. That's just something we as Marines have ingrained in us. We accomplish the mission no matter what it takes."

While he was accomplishing his mission, Carrillo found himself establishing strong bonds and friendships with the Marines he was serving alongside. It didn't take long for Carrillo to translate those bonds into his artwork.

"Marine tankers are a very tough crew to run around with," Carrillo said. "Those Marines became my brothers. We fought, served, prayed, sweated and stank together."

Despite the chaotic environment Carrillo was enduring, he stayed motivated and excited about his mission, and his true nature as an artist and instinct as a Marine first drove him to stay in Iraq as long as he could.

"When division finally caught up with me, I didn't want to leave," said the energetic Marine. "I wanted to keep drawing and doing what I love."

Carrillo eventually left Iraq for Kuwait and then headed back home to San Diego. Since then, he has been assigned temporary additional duty to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

He is currently completing his pioneering combat-art mission by finishing 10 paintings for the Marine Corps Historical Division to supplement the 150 sketches he already rendered in the war, and according to Historical Division officials, they are pleased with his efforts.

"Sgt. Carrillo is a talented, vigorous and productive combat artist," said retired Capt. Charles Grow, assistant curator of art, Historical Division, and former combat artist. "He is a good Marine, and I think he's going to do good things for the Marine Corps combat art collection."

Carrillo's artwork will tell the Marine Corps story for decades to come, and those who observe it can hear Carrillo speaking to them through the art that served as his voice during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Art is everywhere at any time. It's something I have to do. It's a man's creative voice," Carrillo said. "Art is how I cope in life, and to be a part of the combat art legacy is an amazing feeling."

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