When United States Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Forest Blair was a junior in high school, he told his mom, North Syracuse artist Sharon Blair, he wanted to make a difference in the world.
After a whirlwind weekend in June 2009 filled with his high school graduation from C.W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville, seven graduation parties and helping Sharon move from a subsidized three-bedroom apartment in Radisson to a two-bedroom apartment in the village of North Syracuse, Forest was sworn into the Marine Corps and went off to Parris Island, S.C., for three months of intensive training.
“Letters suddenly became very important,” Sharon said, remembering the difficultly of not hearing her son’s voice, save for a quick call to say he’d arrived.
Following boot camp, Forest, now 21, went right to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where a few weeks after being assigned to the infantry he was told he’d be deploying to Afghanistan. At a time when President Barack Obama wanted to make a big push and increase American presence, Forest knew it was going to be a very tough deployment and for those who are “the first ones in, last ones out,” the training was fast-tracked.
“You can really never reach a point of being trained enough,” Forest said of being a Marine.
On Jan. 8, 2010, Forest left the United States and for eight and a half months lived in temperatures as high as 140 degrees, surviving firefights and attacks from the Taliban.
And that’s where Sharon’s story begins.
As an artist with experience in several media, she went to work sketching a portrait of her young Marine.
“When I started really, really drawing at home, it just popped out alive from my papers,” Sharon said. “I have been amazed at the things that have happened from that very first drawing.”