AL ASAD, Iraq -- Many service members have spent long deployments away from family to serve their country during war and peacetime, but sometimes the stress can take its toll.
Staff Sgt. John A. Flores uses his hobby to expand his artistic talent through painting, which helps him through the hardship of deployment, but also gives something to his fellow Marines.
As a career retention specialist with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), the San Antonio, native spends many hours conducting interviews with more than 700 Marines within MAG-16. Flores is kept busy with the many aspects of his job.
"It's a stressful job," said Flores. "The hardest part is getting ready for the new fiscal year, re-enlistments and tracking down Marines who are attached to MALS or MAG for the deployment."
To help relieve some of the stress, Flores paints used rear-rotor helicopter blades and transforms them into Marine Corps memorabilia. Flores uses helicopter blades that have been damaged or have reached their service limit and would be otherwise thrown away.
When Flores gets the insight from the Marines requesting the plaque, he goes to work. With unit logos and a few ideas about the Marine receiving the award, he turns an ordinary blade into a memento that immortalizes their time spent with the unit.
Flores began perfecting his talent in 2000 while stationed in Hawaii. There, he began painting motorcycles to earn extra money, but extended it to plaques for his fellow Marines while in Iraq.
"The first blade I made was for the former MAG-16 sergeant major, Sergeant Major Abelardo Flores," said Flores. "I saw some of the other Marines working on a helicopter blade and thought I could do something with it."
Since then, Flores has made six plaques in the eight months he has been deployed in Iraq. Although most of his work is done on helicopter blades, his talents have been used on other objects unique to the recipient.
One of the plaques Flores worked on was a replica of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter for Col. Guy M. Close, the former MAG-16 commanding officer. The helicopter was made to look as close to the real thing as possible, to include all of the markings.
"I did extra things to the helicopter to make it more personal," said Flores. "I used a sewing needle to draw 19 red crosses in memory of the Marines who died last year. I also used it to write the colonel's name on the model."
Flores spends up to 20 hours working on a helicopter blade, but the time he spends helps take his mind off the strain of the deployment and his work benefits departing Marines.
"It helps me free my mind because the work is something just for me," he said. "Sometimes I am working so much that I have to make time to get away and relieve some stress. It's even more rewarding to see a Marine receive it. The look on their face makes it all worthwhile."
Although Flores still has several months left in Iraq, he continues to paint plaques for his fellow Marines.
"I take a picture of everyone who receives one just so I can see the expression on their face," said Flores. "It's a good feeling to know they appreciate your hard work."