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    Coming of age through war: Lance Cpl. Damien Mathis

    Coming of age through war: Lance Cpl. Damien Mathis

    Photo By James Clark | Lance Cpl. Damien Mathis, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner, from Fayetteville,...... read more read more



    Story by Cpl. James Clark 

    Regimental Combat Team 8

    KAJAKI SOFLA, Helmand Province, Afghanistan - The walls are thick with furtively scratched lines and the roads exist only as hollowed lanes. Distinctive villagers earn a place on the landscape with detailed memories. Each patrol is inspiration and recorded in vast detail.

    Combat art in the hands of young men is still alive as one Marine sketches for relief from the rigors of war.

    This is just a small glimpse into the mind of Lance Cpl. Damien Mathis, from Fayetteville, N.C., who now serves as an M249 squad automatic weapon gunner, on his second deployment to Afghanistan with 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

    Mathis, a soft-spoken and introverted 21 year old, views his art as more than just a source of expression, it is an integral part of his identity, which isn't hard to believe when he shares that he began to sketch and draw before he learned to walk.

    His repertoire now includes tattooing, poetry, the cello, which he began playing at age 10, joining because he had a crush on a girl in his music class, and of course, his long time love and staple: sketching.

    But for Mathis, due to his experiences during his first deployment, when he took part in Operation Moshtarak in 2010, his artwork has transcended from a form of idle expression into something deeper.

    It serves as a way to cope with his changing identity, a way to play catch up to the man he is becoming, due to his time in the military.

    “Last deployment I started as a way to catch up with myself, a way I could make myself better,” explained the 2008 graduate of E.E. Smith High School. “I started drawing my surroundings; it just kind of hit me. It makes me realize what I'm going through out here and for future reference. I can't go back three or four months from now and tell you how I felt today without it.

    “It's something else to focus on,” continued Mathis. “You're still aware of your surroundings, but doing something like that is the only way you can put a smile on your face – other than seeing your brothers coming back into friendly lines.”

    In addition to providing a mental landmark for how far he has come, his art fulfills another critical role. It allows him to honestly express himself, without restraint and inhibition.

    “Only reason I started passing it around is I'm not in this alone, it's a group effort. I get inspiration from others within the unit,” said Mathis, and so he opens his art to criticism from those who inspire its creation.

    Mathis, like his peers within the platoon, is well acquainted with the dangers of deployment and explains how sharing his writing and sketches with others can be a danger in itself. In a sense, he is sharing a deeper part of himself, one that is unfiltered and unadulterated by the strictures of military structure.

    “Recently I've started to use it as an outlet of expression,” he said. “I've allowed friends to read and see some of it. It's a risk even doing it, simply because someone might take it the wrong way.”

    Flipping through his sketchbook, one sees the roads he patrols each day, but it is through a graphite-stained veil. Faces are shadowed and smudged, just as they are on the streets of Kajaki Sofla, women look on, doused in shadow, save for the eyes, finely detailed and painstakingly penned.

    The sketchbook appears to serve as Mathis' mental Polaroid.

    Snapping photos with each glance, but when they come out, they are touched and changed by emotion. In the same way film develops, so too do his sketches, altered and changed by the mood, the ever-present danger, the angst, and at times, the affection and love for his brothers in arms.

    Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in an ongoing series which will highlight the lives and growth of junior servicemen within 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during their deployment to Afghanistan.



    Date Taken: 11.23.2011
    Date Posted: 11.23.2011 04:17
    Story ID: 80470

    Web Views: 417
    Downloads: 1