[caption id="attachment_3831" align="alignleft" width="298"] This marble emblem for 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was created by Charles Wagner, from Rainier, Wash., a mechanic with General Dynamic Land Systems. Wagner will present it to the brigade at the end of their deployment here. U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Zach Zuber.[/caption] DIYALA For Charles Wagner, a mechanic with General Dynamic Land Systems, it all started when three U.S. Soldiers lost their lives here in 2005.Â Wagner, a U.S. civilian contractor then working in Mosul, had to find a way to deal with the pain of losing his friends.
As a way to elevate his sorrow and honor the U.S. military, Wagner began shaping marble stones into crests, crosses and hearts. Since that time, he has created many works of art for units and individual service members."This started out as a way to displace myself from what's going on over here, working during off hours to focus on other things," said Wagner, a native of Rainier, Wash. Wagner said he lost all three Soldiers on one mission, and he created hearts, crucifixes, and lancers for each of the parents as a way to connect to them. During that first tour, in 2004-05, he carved a full-size lancer for 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Then, during his 2006-07 tour with 3rd SBCT, 2nd ID, he created a replica of the Indian-head shield that represents the 2nd ID. When he deployed with the 3rd SBCT here in August, he received the request to make that crest, which includes the 2nd ID shield on top of an arrowhead, with the number three located above the shield. The piece, carved from nearly fifty pounds of marble, is a chance to leave a permanent personal memento with the brigade, said Wagner. "I was born at Madigan Army Hospital [at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.], so I kind of share the pride of the brigade," he said. "And for the Soldiers, this is my gift back because of what the military has done for me. It's a lot of pride for me to be asked to do this, and to offer it to the Soldiers of the brigade." Wagner is quick to share his gift with any who are interested. Often, when Soldiers drop off vehicles to his shop for repair, they see the stone carvings he has laying around. If a curious individual asks about them, Wagner gladly explains how they can create their own art from a simple block of stone. "If you give someone a square block, they can take a saw to the corners and round it off with a washer to make a perfect circle," said Wagner. "That's what I show to Soldiers I meet; to help them take their mind off of what's going on and let them drift somewhere else." After they are taught basic carving techniques, the Soldiers then have the opportunity to enlighten the teacher. "I can't understand why people do what they do just from looking in their eyes, but when I see what they make I see different creative views," said Wagner. "Everybody has a different opinion of how life is, and you can see that when someone is given a piece of stone and turns it into a unit crest, a shot glass, or even just a ball." By spending time here just like Soldiers do, he understands how they feel about being away from home, he said. His hope is to offer those willing to listen some of the knowledge he's gained through years of life experiences. "Our main thing here is to help Soldiers," he said. "The main thing is to at least make the time here seem shorter." Since he started working with stone more than seven years ago, Wagner has provided more than 100 Soldiers with a piece of marble and the proper tools to shape it. When the time comes this summer for him to present the crest to the 3rd SBCT, all will know that it also represents a piece of his heart. June 19, 2010: Written by Pvt. Zach Zuber, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division