Sunday, June 15, 2008

Face of Defense: Cartoonist Drawn to Guantanamo

Army Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn R. Larson, a syndicated editorial cartoonist, arrived here two months ago as one of 20 members from the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Larson is the editor of The Wire, the official weekly publication for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which handles detainee operations at this U.S. Navy base. This mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom provides an opportunity for Larson to use experience gained working as a newspaper editor, chief page designer and editorial cartoonist.

"We were put on alert back in January, so it wasn't much of a surprise," Larson told Editor and Publisher magazine in April. "They needed me, so I'm going."

Larson said this is his third deployment in about 20 years with the National Guard. In 1990, he deployed to Saudi Arabia as the noncommissioned officer for the three-man 132nd Military History Detachment in support of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. And in 2006, he deployed as a platoon sergeant with a field artillery unit tasked with convoy security operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Before this deployment, Larson told E&P that he reviewed the work of Bill Mauldin, who drew cartoons while serving in World War II.

To draw his own cartoons, Larson said, he first draws "roughs" in pencil and then draws the final idea selection on "Bristol" board. He inks the cartoon using a traditional artist pen that resembles a fountain pen and uses a technical pen to ink the lettering.

The cartoon is then scanned, and Larson adds color using computer software. The entire process takes about four hours, he said.

Larson said the cartoons he draws as a civilian reflect local or state issues for a small stable of newspaper clients in Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison and the Freeman of Waukesha.

Cartooning on issues relevant to Guantanamo Bay is more challenging, he admitted.

"I was building a list of cartoons to include in the JTF publication during this deployment, following approval from the chain of command," Larson said. "But there's a lot of operational sensitivity, and it's pretty tricky to include anything that might portray a personal opinion in an official military publication."

Larson, a finalist in the national Fischetti cartooning competition in 2000, said he may resume sending cartoons to his clients.

"It all depends on what kind of time I have," he told E&P. "My first responsibility is to the unit."

After this deployment, Larson hopes to return to The Review, a weekly newspaper in his hometown of Plymouth, Wis., which promised that his job will be there when he returns. "They've been nothing short of wonderful," he told E&P.

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gino Flores
Special to American Forces Press Service

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gino Flores serves with Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

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