National Guard veterans create local graphic design firm

U.S. Army National Guardsmen Spc. Brian Kennedy and 1st Lt. Jason Uhlig showed up with tablets, eager to show off both albums of photos from Afghanistan and sketches of dinosaurs.

The pair hosted a launch party on Friday at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, explaining their new business’ goals to the 150 patrons who milled in and out of the restaurant.

After just returning from a five-month deployment in Afghanistan, Kennedy and Uhlig launched Iron Art, a Syracuse-based graphic design firm that will work closely with military veteran organizations.

For the new businessmen, the first step was a simple query on Google: “NY state how to start a small business.

With just two employees and out-of-pocket funding, Iron Art is a small business — a deliberate decision, said Uhlig, director of the business.

The two will first build media marketing and a support base, and hope that the business’ growth will eventually “snowball,” Kennedy said.

Iron Art is described as a “cognizant business,” dedicated to supporting other veterans and giving back to the Syracuse community, Uhlig said.

The business’ name comes from Kennedy and Uhlig’s brigade’s battle cry, “Blood and iron, never forget,” a combination of the original battle cry from World War I and a tribute to 9/11 victims.

For Kennedy and Uhlig, veterans of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Brigade, the startup is an expansion of identities they formed during their recent deployment to the mostly monochromatic desert region.

When deployed in Afghanistan, Uhlig produced the first versions of logo redesigns for Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub, both important locales for Kennedy and Uhlig.

The revamped Dinosaur Bar-B-Que logo was what Uhlig called a “terminator combat dinosaur,” complete with camouflage and combat boots.

Kennedy’s first painting in Afghanistan was the unit’s patch, whose black background he filled with glow-in-the-dark stars that beamed an iridescent glow at night.

Kennedy and Uhlig usually worked at night by flashlight in Afghanistan, when temperatures were cooler, using a backpack of art supplies from bazaars and care packages from the of CDS Monarch, a Rochester-based firm, as part of its Warrior Salute program for military veterans.

The concrete wall of the battalion’s bunker, where the two created works of art, eventually became a source of pride for Kennedy and the rest of the battalion, which he said liked to “congregate” by the wall and take pictures.

On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, near the end of one of his deployments, Kennedy decided to draw firefighters raising a flag at Ground Zero on the wall as a tribute.

But a thin black Sharpie marker was all that was left of his art supplies.

“I kept running out of ink, so the other guys were coming up to me and handing me their markers and saying, ‘Here, you got to finish this,’” Kennedy said. “I kept drawing until each marker was literally in shreds.”

Though Kennedy, the master artist, and Uhlig handle distinct ends of business operations, running the business is a collaboration of Kennedy’s highly visual nature and Uhlig’s practical personality.

“I have so many ideas, but I can’t even finish them all,” Kennedy said. “Jay keeps me organized and focused and I keep him thinking outside the box.”

Though he admits he “is not the best artist out there,” Kennedy said he still believes his artwork serves as a reminder of the possibilities of life, particularly for veterans who may feel typecast by their deployment.

“I never thought you could do this in the military because I thought at first that it was all guns and gung-ho,” Kennedy said. ”But I think I’ve proven that you can be creative, too.”


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