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Andrews Airman painting a legacy

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brent A. Skeen
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force did not teach him these skills, but his gift has been recognized, and the units he has been assigned to have benefited from it. When he talks about his craft, he smiles in a way, which can only be expressed when talking about a true passion.

Because of this, Senior Airman Sean Connolly has made a name for himself. His ability to draw and paint murals has turned heads wherever he has gone.

Connolly is an air transportation specialist at the 69th Aerial Port Squadron here, and his latest creation in the stairwell at the entrance of the squadron is designed with the vision to be as warm and welcoming as the tropical sunrise on a Caribbean island.

That's a vision he is familiar with. He grew up in Jamaica, the place where he first realized his talent.

"As a kid I was always making stuff, drawing stuff, painting on the walls - getting in trouble for graffiti," Connolly said with a slight chuckle. "So, it's been something that's always been a part of me - doing art work."

The passion became more than just a hobby for Connolly as he majored in art in college, earning an associate's degree.

When Connolly joined the Air Force Reserve seven years ago, he initially wanted to paint designs on the side of airplanes, but he found out it was a position that was not available. So, he chose a completely different career path. However, it wasn't long before opportunity knocked for him to showcase his talent to his first unit at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

"The chief there wanted something on the wall for morale purposes and just give the place a visual uplift," Connolly said. "I raised my hand for the job, and they were all real surprised on how well it turned out. I guess it just took off from there."

Connolly has created five murals since then, including at his deployed locations in Afghanistan and Oman. According to Connolly, his creation here is his biggest yet, covering three walls, taking more than six months to complete.

When Connolly first sketched out his vision of the mural on paper, he showed Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heinzl, the air transportation chief enlisted manager for 69 APS.

"Fantastic," Heinzl told Connolly. "Let's go ahead and press. This is great."

Every day after Connolly completed his work as an air transportation specialist, he would go into the stairwell, crank up some music by Bob Marley, pick up a piece of chalk, and draw.

"I did it freehand -- no projector," Connolly said. "It was a bit of a challenge, but the end result - I'm pleased with it."

Every day Connolly would spend several hours sketching out the outlines with chalk, using his sleeve to rub off the mistakes.

Connolly chalked up a scene of several C-17 Globemaster III's performing an inflight airdrop mission. Frozen in that moment are crates of cargo drifting to the ground by dome-shaped parachutes.

He wanted this mural to represent the aerial port's mission of getting the cargo and passengers in and out of the airfield, and recognize everyone associated with it.

When the sketch was completed, Connolly knew he had created something special.

"The moment I had it sketched out, that was it for me," Connolly said with a beaming smile on his face. "When I have it sketched out in my mind or whatever surface I'm working on, I could always visualize exactly how it's going to turn out. You are looking for the finished product, but it's already finished in my mind. I was pleased with it long before it was finished."

When he added the oil and acrylic paint, the mural came to life. The orange skies highlighted the gray undertones of a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling a C-17. The dark outstretched wings of an eagle served as a border along the lower section of the mural. Every color used had a purpose and a reason behind it.

"Coming in here, it's uplifting," Connolly said. "Bursting through those doors and looking up and right away you see what we do. As aerial port, all aspects are represented here and to me, it's very good. I've gotten feedback from people that say 'Hey, that artwork makes me feel like I want to get to work.' I'm glad for the opportunity to express my talent this way, so it ties in."

"That talent alone really brings out the legacy, not only in the history of the squadron or a wing, but Air Force wide," said Heinzl, who believes Connolly is an example of why units need to find the talents of their people and take advantage of them.

"He is the needle in the haystack, the diamond in the rough," Heinzl said. "This young man is phenomenal, and it shows those Airmen that if you pull from in and you bring that talent out, it actually blooms. It spreads. They want to be a part of it, and that's what it's about."