Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. -- While the title "Marine" conveys an image of a battle-hardened warrior, the average American might not be able to imagine anything else past Marines' rifle-toting, camouflage-wearing, destroy-everything-in-sight reputation.
But the vast majority of Marines also have other talents the Corps takes advantage of.
Two Marines from the station's Combat Visual Information Center are displaying their talent to the community through canvases and oil paints, with the hope that people will recognize Marines' wide array of expertise. Their artwork, along with other military art, is currently on display at the Historic Yuma Theatre in downtown Yuma to help celebrate Independence Day.
"When they find out Marines do this, they realize we aren't just about killing," said Gunnery Sgt. Luis Palacios, CVIC staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge and combat illustrator by trade. "When we display our artwork, the civilian community can see that the Marines on this air station do more than just fly planes. Many people are not aware that we have this kind of (military occupational specialty) and we do this kind of thing in the Marine Corps."
The Army also had some photos on display next to the Marines' paintings. While a picture can say a thousand words, paintings have a different effect on people, said Palacios.
"Looking at photographs of the military can sometimes be too real," he explained. "With oil paints, more people can look at it. Paintings bring you back to the moment, the feeling and the smell."
Cpl. Annette Kyriakides, CVIC combat illustrator, agreed that paintings help the viewer experience the scene from a different perspective.
"You may get a good idea of what happened by looking at a photograph. But when you are studying a canvas to see what the artist saw, you can see the tiny details that left an impression on them," said Kyriakides, a Wellsboro, Pa. native. "I remember the tiny things, so that when a person looks at one of my paintings one hundred years from now, they will know what it was like to be a Marine in Iraq. They can read about it, but reading doesn't have the same impact that art does."
Being able to document history as a Marine combat illustrator is the opportunity of a lifetime, said Kyriakides, who transferred into the field after someone saw her drawing on duty.
"To me it was a dream come true. I wanted to be an artist or a Marine, so I chose Marine. Then I was real lucky and got to do both."
But since combat illustrators usually do not deploy, Kyriakides deployed to Iraq as a combat photographer.
Like combat illustrators before her, Kyriakides had to sneak her artistic talents into the war zone under the cover of professional-grade photography skills. Kyriakides said she was excited to finally have an opportunity to exercise her skills on the big stage of battle.
"You get some pretty raw emotion in battle. You have to keep a level head and then put it on paper," said Kyriakides. "Some people don't like revisiting that kind of thing, but I don't mind it."
Now that she has been there, Kyriakides said she is glad that her artwork is being seen.
"I was out there literally risking my life every day," she explained. "When you are in these hot spots, and you see what happens to other people, you don't want your artwork to sit on a shelf somewhere. You want it to be where people can see it. We only displayed mild content, but this is the first time those images have been in a gallery."
Not only are Palacios' and Kyriakides' paintings on display, but they themselves will soon be featured on Navy-Marine Corps News for their unique role in the Corps.
Yet in the combat-oriented Marine Corps, non-combat jobs like combat illustrator may seem less important or expendable, said Palacios.
"We can't lose this MOS," said Palacios. "We have to nurture it so that it stays alive. Combat illustrators reveal a different side of the military."