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The unfinished mural

Staff Sgt. Alexander Buchanan, a 28th Operations Support Squadron aviation resource manager, stands next to an unfinished mural inside the 28th Operations Group building at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 8, 2018. An Airman and an artist, Buchanan has spent three months designing and creating this painting outside the host aviation resource management office where he works (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Randahl J. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Alexander Buchanan, a 28th Operations Support Squadron aviation resource manager, holds up a combined painting at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 9, 2018. Before he joined the Air Force in 2012, Buchanan was an artist and has since used his skills to create several works showcasing the Air Force’s heritage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Randahl J. Jenson)

Airman 1st Class Alexander Buchanan, a 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron aviation resource management apprentice, stands next his mural at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May, 2014. In addition to his primary duties, Buchanan completed his career development course and upgrade training during his first deployment to Qatar and used his free time to create a mural of the 37th EBS. (Courtesy photo)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- A simple blue, ballpoint pen glides across a crisp white page as an artist drafts a blueprint. Concepts of his imagination come to fruition as he expertly sketches, outlines and shades images. 

A creature emerges from the chaos of lines, shapes and gradients. With every detail, the griffin, a powerful mythical creature resembling a lion with the head and wings of an eagle, appears. An ancient symbol of strength, the griffin represents the force of the Airmen in the 28th Operations Support Squadron.

The 28th Operations Group is the tip of the spear, “Providing Airpower Anytime, Anywhere.” They host two bomber squadrons, the 37th Tigers and 34th Thunderbirds, as well as the 28th OSS Griffins. Inside this squadron are smaller teams that support the bomb squadrons and the worldwide operations they conduct. 

Outside the host aviation resources management office, Staff Sgt. Alexander Buchanan uses brushes, paint and tape to create a mural that consumes the hallway surrounding his work center. An Airman and an artist, Buchanan performs a mission-critical role for Ellsworth Air Force Base flying operations.

“We take care of a lot of the paperwork side of flying operations,” said Buchanan, a 28th OSS aviation resource management craftsman. “It’s very rewarding to work with the operations side of the Air Force. You get to see the real mission and what’s going on because you’re a part of it.”
The HARM office here tracks aircrew records, ensuring that pilots and weapon systems officers are current on all requirements and are physically able to fly.

Long before he started using a pen to get bombers in the air, a young Buchanan would fill entire coloring books with his sister and stay up all night drawing with his favorite medium: a blue ballpoint pen.

“I’ve always loved drawing with a blue pen,” Buchanan said. “I also like calligraphy, watercolor, acrylics, charcoal, clay and painting, but I love the blue ballpoint pen. It feels like I’m drawing a blueprint.”
Buchanan joined the Air Force in the spring of 2012, leaving behind his home in Montgomery, Alabama and followed his father’s footsteps to join the military.

“I had an art mentor when I was 19 years old,” Buchanan said. “One day he asked me ‘what are you going to do,’ and mentioned the military. I hadn’t really considered it as an option until then, but my dad served 20 years in the Air Force, so I started looking into it.”

Planning on leaving after his first contract, Buchanan wanted to complete his service to his country and then pursue his passion for art. It wasn’t until his first deployment that he discovered he could do both. 

While deployed with the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Buchanan painted a mural of a tiger jumping out of a B-1, bombs in hand and rage in its eyes. He found further motivation during his second deployment. 

“When I was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, I had the chance to make a drawing,” Buchanan said. “During that time, our intel started reporting that [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] started calling the B-1 the ‘black dragon,’ so I made a picture of that. I realized that I liked being in the Air Force, and I still want to draw, but I don’t want to get out.”

Since joining, Buchanan has created several works of art, many of which represent Air Force heritage. His latest work covers the hallway inside the 28th OSS and depicts a griffin straddling a globe with wings reaching the sun while outlines of two B-1s fly through the hallway. 

“He brought the idea to us, and he’s been working really hard on it,” said Master Sgt. Heather Reid, the HARM superintendent. “He wanted to create a place that brought comradery and spirit to Airmen.”

For the past three months, Buchanan has spent over 200 hours on the project – painting after work and coming in on the weekends.

“I’m going off our patch and representing what it means,” the artist said. “The whole idea is that when you walk into the hallway, you’re going to be surrounded by the picture. The griffin is the center of the mural, and as you walk closer, the right and left wall have B-1s flying away from the earth, showing the Air Force’s control of air and space.”

Each painting tells a story of Air Force culture. 

“Heritage is passed down through generation to generation,” Reid said. “His mural is depicting how Airmen and the sacrifice of Airmen before them continue to protect not only our country but others as well.”

As he prepares for his third deployment, Buchanan will have to pause on his favorite mural to date. 

“He’s always looking to improve himself and his surroundings,” Reid said. “He’s taken his talent and molded it into his life in the Air Force.”

Buchanan says that he might lose sleep thinking about the unfinished mural and the story it tells. 

“I’m really proud of how it’s turning out,” he said. “I can’t wait for when I come back and finish it.”

To Staff Sgt. Buchanan, the painting is more than art – it’s heritage.