By Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell of Task Force Bastogne KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Feb. 1, 2011 - The soldier's ink-stained, dirt-caked hands grasped his body armor and helmet as he prepared to depart the dimly lit plywood building on top of Observation Post Mustang.
Army Pfc. Luke I. Schlueter finishes a unit logo in the tactical operations center of Observation Post Mustang in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, Jan. 28, 2011. U.S. Army photoby Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell
Bracing against the crisp, whipping wind on the 6,500-foot mountain, Army Pfc. Luke I. Schlueter pulls on his gloves and adjusts his fleece jacket before settling down to look through various sets of binoculars and scopes at the draws, spurs and ridges surrounding the small observation post.
For the last nine months in eastern Afghanistan, pulling guard duty has been Schlueter's job as a cavalry scout assigned to Troop C, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Bandit, of the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
"I do my job because it's my job, but my hobby is art," Schlueter said. "Taking a blank piece of paper and making something out of it is just a way of reminding me why I'm here and what's going on."
Since age 6 growing up in Okinawa, Japan, Schlueter employed art as a way to express himself. His mother bought him coloring books, but he wouldn't color in them. Instead, he'd trace the outlines.
While living at the top of Afghanistan, he has plenty of outlines to trace now.
"You've got all these mountains," he said. "Especially the clouds and everything that are here, it's crazy. Where I'm from in Nebraska, it's all flat. I mean, you get to see clouds and stuff, but not like it 'is here.' It's ... it's ... it's ridiculous."
Schlueter, from Bellevue, Neb., draws anything –- mountains, people, animals, surrealistic landscapes, or whatever his buddies ask of him.
"When people see something they want me to draw and get something off their mind, that's usually when I come into play," Schlueter said. "They say, 'Hey Schlueter, draw this,' and it gives them a laugh."
Since following his older cousin and sister into the Army, he has put his talents to use at some odd times.
"I was in basic training, and the night before you get out -- when everybody's cleaning and everything -- I got told to paint the barracks –- all three floors," Schlueter said. "I painted everything. And then I painted the squadron rock, which the squadron sergeant major gave me a coin for, because he was really impressed with it."
In the tactical operations center at Observation Post Mustang, Schlueter has been working on another piece of art. For the past few days, he has been hunkered close to a large eagle he's drawing around his unit's crest. Past unit emblems adorn the walls, providing a respite from the utilitarian maps, charts and wires.
"It's nice to work on a piece that's going to be around for a while," Schlueter said. His squadron's blue and red logo covers nearly half of a wall.
He added that soldiers' esprit de corps at their hilltop living quarters may benefit from his efforts to bring a little more color to Army green.
"I've been told the reason why Wal-Mart's blue is because it helps people who are shopping be more relaxed. So yeah, I guess it makes people have better morale," he said with a laugh.