LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — On a typical day at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, you will see Sgt. 1st Class Michelle John, the career counselor for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, bustling around, talking to commanders and soldiers, looking for eligible candidates to reenlist. When she isn’t reenlisting soldiers, she is busy managing the FOB’s post exchange.
And when she is not performing those duties, she spends her spare time creating works of art.
John, a 34-year-old from New Hampton, Iowa, has long enjoyed passing her free time by painting and sketching. Though a seventh grade art class was the beginning of her fascination with creating artwork, she attributes her gift to her family.
“My dad can eye something, sketch it out and recreate it flawlessly from scratch. My mom should have been an interior decorator. She has the ability to completely transform a room and renovate a house. My oldest son, Keagan, is quite the little artist himself,” said John.
As accomplished an artist as she is, John’s artistic side can be hidden by the fact that she is also an accomplished athlete, basketball coach and mother to two boys, Tyree and Keagan. She is modest about her artwork and only reveals her pieces to her closest friends and colleagues.
“I’ve had friends come over and eye artwork on my wall. They ask where I bought the painting from, of which I simply tell them to turn the canvas over,” said John. “The looks on their faces are priceless.”
She has had many friends request paintings or new works of art. She gladly creates them and refuses any commission.
“I don’t ever see myself charging for my artwork. It is part of me and the emotions that I feel while creating it,” she said. “Why would I charge anyone for that?”
John is lighthearted, fun-loving, and is known as her battalion’s practical jokester, having been known to place pebbles in the shoes of various soldiers in the unit, including some of the senior NCOs.
Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Greening, the command sergeant major for 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div., and possibly a victim of John’s practical jokes, was taken aback after seeing her artwork. He was so impressed that he requested that she replicate one of her pieces for him.
“It is absolutely amazing at the detail in her painting. She's a truly talented painter,” said Greening.
John is inspired by Claude Monet, a French artist and key figure responsible for the Impressionist movement that began in France in the early 1900s.
“I love Monet paintings and try to do redo them, or a version of them,” John said. “He is my favorite painter. His style of painting allows you to be more free with your brush strokes and not as exact in detail and still have an incredible painting emerge. I just find random pictures of [Monet] paintings and if it catches my eye then I paint it.”
John continues to inspire soldiers, friends and family with her work both in the Army and with a paint brush.