FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Maybe “Razorback Nation” isn’t enough to describe the passion of Arkansas fans. Maybe it should be “Razorback Planet.” How else do you explain the 200-foot-wide image of a running razorback on the roof of a building at Tallil Airbase in Iraq?
The building is a huge helicopter hangar that serves as base of operations for the 111th Air Ambulance unit of the Arkansas Army National Guard’s 77th Aviation Brigade. The 50 pilots, flight crew members and medics in the unit have been stationed in southern Iraq since last September. They call themselves “Razorback Medivac.”
Sgt. Kirby Pierce, a 25-year-old Little Rock native, is crew chief of a Blackhawk helicopter in the 111th. He’s a six-year veteran. It’s his job to clear the airborne ambulance to land, assess the situation on the ground, and then go with the medic to provide protection and support while the injured victim is being treated, prepped for transport and carried onto the helicopter.
Like all members of the 111th, he risks his life to save lives.
Flying medical rescue missions around Iraq might seem like enough of a challenge for anyone. For that matter, just being in Iraq might seem like enough of a challenge.
But then one night some members of a Florida unit, also stationed in Tallil, spray-painted small jaguar stencils on various buildings and pieces of equipment, apparently in tribute to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some of those stencils showed up on the “Razorback” unit’s buildings and equipment.
That was a challenge.
”I’ve been a Hog fan all my life,” said Sgt. Pierce. “Over here we follow the Razorbacks on the Internet, and we saw several games.” This was a challenge that had to be answered.
In a big way.
Pierce got everyone in the unit to kick in some money, then went to the market that had sprung up outside the gates of the military base. He was looking for paint. Lots of paint.
“We didn’t want to use any Army materials, but the Iraqi shops in that market, they can get anything,” said Pierce. “They got us everything we needed.”
The next step was to go to the Internet and pull up an online image of the Razorback mascot as it appears on the floor of Bud Walton Arena, then copy it onto a 22-inch sheet of graph paper. The roof of the base hangar is made of 12-foot-thick concrete, divided into two and a half foot squares. With the graph paper as a template – one square on the paper equaling one square on the roof – Sgt. Pierce painted the outline freehand, using “cans and cans and cans” of black spray paint.
About half the unit worked 48 hours straight, under the desert sun and through the desert night, using brushes and rollers to paint the Hog red. It took about 100 gallons of red paint, along with more cans of white and black spray paint for the highlights.
“It was a lot of work,” said Pierce. “A lot of sweat.” The first day was typically hot, but the second day the temperature hit 118 degrees. The nights were more comfortable, between 95 and 100 degrees. The wind didn’t cool things off, either.
“That wind is like someone is holding a blow dryer on you.”
When the work was done the Razorback image covered more than 18,000 square feet. The Florida unit admitted defeat.
“They said ‘We can’t top that – you can win.”
As far as anyone knows this is the world’s biggest Razorback. It can be seen from an altitude of more than 6,000 feet.
And, thanks to the Internet, from almost anywhere on the planet.
The Razorback Planet.