For Normal Heights native Chris Tomlin, the opportunity to do a mural in the neighborhood he grew up in was already exciting. The retired Marine Corps veteran says the real excitement, though, came in relaying an important message to the public. Working with Combat Arts San Diego’s Veteran Mural Project, Tomlin says the aim of the murals has been to “always try to focus on one particular veterans’ issue.” In the case of “Thank You for Your Service,” the second mural in the series, Tomlin and Combat Arts chose an issue that was decidedly under the radar.
“One of the more consistent problems has been with service dogs,” says Tomlin, referring to the trained dogs that accompany many veterans to help them deal with a range of post-combat issues. “The dogs are trained to deal with the anxiety that comes with crowds and post-traumatic stress disorder. So what we’re seeing is a lot of people coming up and asking to pet the dogs. The vets would try to explain that the dog was working and people would get angry. They’d chastise the vet in public, because they don’t understand that those dogs are there for a purpose.”
Completed in June after a month of work, the mural, which is on the side of the Adams Avenue Car Wash (3302 Adams Ave.), features a sitting figure with a service dog and surrounded by words representing some of the issues that might warrant the need for a dog. The words surrounding the veteran came from a brainstorming session with active-duty servicemen and Tomlin, a self-proclaimed “huge fan of typography,” who sketched out the words and added subtle representations of every branch of the military within the letters.
Tomlin and Combat Arts Executive Director Elizabeth Washburn are already working with the Wounded Warriors Battalion at Camp Pendleton in planning the third mural in the series, which will debut somewhere in Clairemont in 2017. For Washburn, the Veteran Mural Project is part of Combat Arts San Diego’s ongoing mission to educate and advocate for veterans’ issues via the arts.
“We’re really hoping it serves as a public service announcement,” says Washburn. “That’s the way we want to do it all over town.”