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A poem without words: painting the Defender’s heritage

Photo of mural on a dormitory wall

A freshly-painted mural adorns the wall of a dormitory building May 10, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The mural commemorates security forces Airmen who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of an Airman watching another Airman paint a mural

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Menz, 39th Security Forces Squadron unit training instructor, watches as Airman 1st Class Anna Whittington, 39th SFS commander’s support staff, paints a mural in a dormitory building April 23, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Murals are a common feature in Air Force dormitories, often depicting various aspects of military heritage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of Airman painting a mural on a wall

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anna Whittington, 39th Security Forces Squadron commander’s support staff, paints a battlefield cross April 23, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. A battlefield cross is a memorial featuring a rifle pointed downward into a pair of boots and topped with a helmet, and symbolizes troops who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of Airman painting a mural

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Menz, 39th Security Forces Squadron unit training instructor, left, and Airman 1st Class Anna Whittington, 39th SFS commander’s support staff, talk while painting a mural April 23, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The Airmen embarked on this project to honor security forces heritage in the security forces dormitories. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Horace, an ancient Roman poet, is often quoted as saying “a picture is a poem without words.”

This is why two Airmen from the 39th Security Forces Squadron told the story of Defenders in a way words cannot express: through painting.

Airman 1st Class Anna Whittington, who serves on the commander’s support staff, teamed up with Senior Airman Tyler Menz, a unit training instructor, to paint a mural in one of the security forces dormitories.

Blending Whittington’s artistic acumen and Menz’s knowledge of security forces heritage, the duo embarked on this project to honor Defenders.

“I want to get a mural in every (security forces dormitory) building on different floors,” Whittington said, adding that each mural would give a glimpse into the heritage of Air Force security forces. “I want to be able to give something to the people who are coming after. It gives me the feeling of serving something bigger than myself.”

For their motif, Whittington and Menz painted a battlefield cross: a memorial for fallen troops featuring a rifle pointed downward into a pair of boots and topped with a helmet.

Whittington also reached out to a fellow Airman from the 39th Communications Squadron for help in tracing the design on the wall.

“It felt good contributing to something meaningful and helping people from another career field,” said Senior Airman Brandon Gayton, 39th CS cable and antenna systems technician. “I haven’t done traditional art in a while since I switched to digital platforms, so it felt nice going back to that medium. I also got to learn much more about the security forces field, so overall it was a satisfying experience for me.”

Whittington mentioned that art does not just give her avenues to send her message, but also teaches her lessons to carry into her daily life.

“It's okay to not get everything perfect; you do things to the best of your ability--and that’s the most you can do,” she said, recounting one of these lessons. “I have always liked art, and painting was something that helped me clear my head. Nothing about art is the same; you will never be able to make the same thing over and over again. It's forever changing.”

Menz expressed the importance of remembering Defenders and commemorating the legacy they leave behind.

“It is important to show support to past, present and future Defenders,” he said. “The first mural is the battlefield cross. It represents the Defenders who have paid the ultimate sacrifice at home and abroad.”

“The saying ‘never forgotten’ plays a huge role in this career field,” Menz added. “All the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice are remembered at every installation we go to.”

He went on to elaborate on what it means to serve in security forces, mentioning that while the job is rewarding, it demands daily sacrifice.

“Being a Defender means having the strength…to go into battle and make sure my fellow Airmen get to go home at the end of the day,” Menz said. “Or, stopping what could be a bad day through ensuring the security of the base. It’s also making the personnel inside the installation feel safe 24/7--even during holidays, so they can carry out the mission.”

While the two friends’ busy work schedules have made the project slow-going, they believe the end product will make their labor worthwhile.

“What it comes down to is once we go through all the training and put this beret on, there’s a sense of pride,” he said. “The learning and training never stops in this career field as we always strive to be the best and ensure we can protect when the time calls.”