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Lejeune corpsman adds color to camp's chapel in Iraq

9 Aug 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Navy Seaman Robert J. Sterling is making life at the camp's chapel here a little more colorful.

The 26-year-old hospital corpsman from Anniston, Ala. Is in the middle of painting a mural depicting St. Michael, known as a patrol saint of warriors.  It's a Sterling's labor of love.

"I was basically raised inside of a church," Sterling said.  "I was active every Sunday and I've been painting since kindergarten so this just fits together for me.  This is the third mural I've done while in the military and I'm excited about it."

Getting the art supplies was difficult for Sterling.  The local market sold only chickens and engine parts.  That's where the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment's battalion chaplain, Navy Lt. Eric Verhulst, stepped in.  While on emergency leave, the Grand Rapids, Mich. preacher picked up some brushes and returned to find the supply Marines had scrounged high-quality brushes for the chapel mural.

"I want this to be a quiet place where troops can come and meditate or pray or just be by themselves, Verhulst said.  "The mural will hopefully offer some comfort and inspiration.

"It's been an idea we've had for a while but with our moving around we never really got to see it through," he added.  "We wanted to make the place look like a chapel instead of a white-walled padded room."

The depiction of St. Michael is also a tribute to the Army units who served here prior to the Marine battalion.

"Saint Michael was the name of one of the villages the 82nd Airborne landed in during World War II," Verhulst explained.  "The Army named many of their bases by cities they fought in during their history and ours was named Forward Operating Base St. Michael when they were here earlier this year."

The name changed but the spirit invoked did not.  In keeping with the former base name, the mural depicting the angel-warrior is gracing the main wall of the chapel. 

Sterling expects to spend four hours a day on the mural, which he said would take him a week and a half to complete.  The mural comes from a picture depicting the angel culled from images in the Bible.

"Whatever type of work I do I like to research it a much as I can.  I read some books and got some ideas for the picture before I started," said Sterling, who holds a degree in commercial advertising.  "Being in a chapel, painting a scene from the bible, you can't help but put some religion into what you're doing."

Marines who have seen the unfinished mural like what is being created inside their sacred space.

"It gives the whole chapel more personality.  Marines like to individualize whatever they have and that it what the mural does," said Cpl. Aaron D. Kiracofe, a 21 year-old rifleman from Denton, Texas. "If nothing else it will give something for the next unit that relieves us to build upon and make their own."