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News | July 20, 2020

Drawn to what matters

By Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson

After a close call that nearly left his family stranded in Iceland at the beginning of the global pandemic, Pfc. Kevin Blackstone didn’t hesitate when his leadership asked for volunteers to support COVID-19 relief missions here at home.

“At that point I felt like I had a personal connection to the mission,” recalled the radar repair specialist for the 197th Field Artillery Brigade.

With the New Hampshire National Guard at the forefront of most everything COVID in the Granite State, Blackstone immersed himself in a variety of small tasks from maintenance to his current duties with Task Force Distribution. The food bank mission required NH guardsmen to take on a variety of extra duties, long hours, and a fair amount of stress. Some days during a mobile food pantry, Blackstone and other soldiers gave food to families who had nowhere else to go.

“At the end of the day, I could decompress by drinking a beer or I could decompress by capturing something for posterity,” he said.

Blackstone chose the latter. He decided to draw.

“It’s been an interesting exercise for me,” he explained. “It adds a profundity and depth to something that is otherwise just a hobby.”

Blackstone’s artwork is a unique glimpse into what has become more than a 100 days of the same work. “Our job is pretty repetitive,” he laughed. “It’s also Zen, but I end up seeing the soldier in front of me do the same motion for eight hours straight.”

He related the experience to leaving an LCD television on for too long and the resulting screen is left burnt with an image. “I get home and that image is what I see,” he said.

Blackstone has enjoyed capturing the images of “unsung people.”

“When the world talks about a mission they talk about who it was led by,” he said. “No one talks about the private first class who was doing things to make the mission work.”

“I try to capture their quirks and personalities,” he added.

Spc. Jacob Engelhardt, a behavioral health specialist with the 197th Field Artillery Brigade, said Blackstone’s creations are each unique and impressive.
“We can look at them and say ‘Whoa, that’s Stevens,’” he said. “They show the personal level of the scenes we live every day.”

Blackstone acknowledged how grateful he was for the opportunity to “draw something that mattered.”

What began as a call to serve has led to the empowerment of the food bank distribution team. These young soldiers watch their everyday tasks accumulate to heroic measures through the tip of a Sharpie marker and a talented battle buddy.

“I’m really happy to be here,” Blackstone said. “Even though the work can feel monotonous. On the macro scale, and when you look back at what you accomplished during your time in the guard, anyone who has been working this COVID mission will be able to stand up and say this is what we did, and it mattered.”