SAHL SINJAR, Iraq (Dec. 2, 2008) --
The term “change of scenery” is seldom heard in Iraq and usually barren deserts do not inspire artistic creativity.
But, there are exceptions to these rules.
Cpl. Vandoan L. Ndo, a motor transportation noncommissioned officer with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, has introduced a taste of home by painting detailed scenes and captured the little slivers of beauty Iraq offers.
Ndo, 23, from Hercules, Calif., received a care package from a friend that equipped him with the simple tools he needed to complete his masterpieces: brushes and paint. All he needed was a canvas and an easel. Being in Iraq, this would be difficult for some people, but Marines are known for their ability to adapt and overcome. Ndo found his props after finishing a full Meal, Ready to Eat.
"I started looking around and the only thing I had to paint on was empty MRE boxes," he said.
No sooner did Ndo start painting on this makeshift canvas before he captured the attention of his fellow Marines.
“A lot of guys have never seen a Marine pass the time by painting out in the field,” Ndo said. “And it’s even more special that they’re on MRE boxes.”
His brush strokes eventually cover the drab cardboard, transforming a once uninteresting slab into beautiful scenes of a winter landscape, an Iraqi sunset, or a variety of other scenes that make the Marines feel a little closer to home and away from the desert which surrounds them.
"I saw him painting a desert scene and I was like, 'hey, can you paint Tennessee hills?’" said Lance Cpl. Nik O. Mathisen, 21, an engineer with Delta Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion. Ndo obliged and Mathisen, from Eagleville, Tenn., presented him a picture taken from his uncle’s front porch to use as an example.
Ndo, aptly nicknamed “Bob Ross,” set up his make-shift easel, folding the cardboard box between the steps of his truck. Setting aside his rifle and wrenches, he turned to his second set of tools to fulfill the request.
"At first I didn't see where he was coming from, but in the end … it was excellent, and better than I thought it would be,” Matheson said.
"It takes you away for a second and you think, ‘wow, I get to go home to that soon.’"
Living out of his vehicle with the rest of his Marines, Ndo moves around constantly, patrolling Iraqi territory along the Syrian border. Needless to say, their environment doesn’t change much and the sand which constantly surrounds them provides little inspiration. Ndo has found a way to give Marines an escape from the realities of patrolling they face daily.
Cpl. Brian L. Jones, 22, from Brentwood, Tenn., said Ndo’s art has an effect on the Marines around him. “Out here there are no phones or internet and it’s hard to find things to pass the time. It definitely boosts the morale for guys who watch him paint,” said Jones, a company clerk and training noncommissioned officer for Alpha Co.
Some of his paintings adorn the cabs of various tactical vehicles. The unit’s constant relocations can get to be dismal when the scenery never changes, but his paintings stay with them, brightening their day and providing an escape.