Drawing the Line
The Fusion of a Sailor and Artist
More than 20 years ago, a young boy from Lowell, Mich., picked up a pencil and unknowingly found his purpose and changed the course of his life.
Today, that young man is 26-year-old Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Rueben Troyer, serving aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). Troyer has turned a childhood hobby of doodling into a goal to take his artistry to the next level.
"My childhood was isolated, sheltered and boring," said Troyer. "I have three sisters, one older and two younger. Since I had all sisters, we didn't really have a lot of things in common. I pretty much sat around the house and stayed to myself."
With the extra time alone, an adolescent Troyer would stumble upon a pencil and use that time wisely.
"I have been playing with pencils since I was old enough to hold one. I just wanted to doodle every chance I got. When I was a kid, if I wasn't playing video games, I guarantee I was drawing. It was, and still is, the only thing I truly love doing."
What started as a young child with an infatuation for lines on paper would morph into a personal mandate of serious pride, hard work and constant improvement.
"My senior year in high school was when it all clicked for me," said Troyer. "I joined the school newspaper and started a small comic strip. The guy I worked with at the time attended an art college for comic structure. He invited me to come along with him sometimes. I didn't know at the time, but I would go on to meet my earliest mentors and begin to shape the structure of what I do now. It started clicking, and I slowly started to see noticeable progress in my work."
Troyer slowly began to shape his life's goals and immediately understood his purpose.
"This is all I have ever wanted to do," he said.
Joining the Navy
"I never intended to join the Navy," Troyer admitted. "My enlistment in the military was the result of disagreeing with my father and wanting to prove him wrong."
Troyer recalled the emotionally charged situation that changed his relationship with his father and put a hold on his artistry.
"When I informed him of my intentions of going to art school, tensions arose," he recounted. "He didn't support my decision and felt I was going in the wrong direction. I tried to explain my reasoning, but to no avail."
After going back and forth, his father gave him a simple, yet frustrating ultimatum: if he didn't get out of his father's house, he would have to join the Navy.
"So initially, I joined the Navy for the wrong reasons. I was driven by the desire to spite my father and be more successful than him. I would show him what I was capable of."
Troyer said his feelings for the Navy have since changed. He is proud of his decision to join, no matter how it initially came about.
Throughout the ship, Sailors and Marines aboard Harry S. Truman may have unknowingly seen Troyer's work.
"I've designed the old and new Junior Enlisted Association T-shirts," said Troyer. "I also have my second mural going on the wall in aviation intermediate maintenance department's IM-3 division's avionics shop 11. A friend and I also have the Chief's Mess murals going up. There are also a great number of personal projects I have worked on. Throughout the ship, you may see the back of someone's flight deck jersey with a huge hand-drawn graphic on the back. It's safe to assume it's one of my designs."
While most would love to walk around and see their artwork around the ship, Troyer's feelings are just the opposite.
"I hate seeing my own work," said Troyer. "Every time I see past projects, I see what I could have done better. I think about how I could change this or add this. Sometimes, I can't look because I am so meticulous and tailored toward my work. My sketchbook is riddled with half-done paintings because halfway through I would notice something is off, so I turn the page and build off that mistake."
What he does get satisfaction from is seeing the satisfaction and gratitude on a person's face after seeing his work.
"I get the most satisfaction out of seeing everyone's reaction to my work," said Troyer. "When they look at a mural, I get a strong sense of appreciation and pride."
Troyer has high standards and at times can be his own worst critic.
"He is so tough on himself," said Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Rachel Underwood, a fellow artist and friend of Troyer's. "His bar is so high because he expects so much of himself artistically. He is too good to be that hard on himself."
Underwood admitted she envies Troyer's imagination and has learned how to be more creative from him.
"He has a unique comic book style that's so different from my stuff," said Underwood. "I like it so much because it's something I can't do. He can just sit down, come up with random ideas and apply it to paper seamlessly. He has taught me to work from my imagination more. Instead of sitting down with multiple reference pictures and combining different elements, I let my mind guide me."
The Next Chapter
Troyer is currently in the process of separating from the Navy. He has fulfilled his contract and plans to continue his love of art and follow his dreams.
"I feel good," he said. "I came in lacking the want or need for anything. I have improved personally and professionally, matured as a man and as an artist. I am happy. I did it the right way. I served my country and gave everything I had in the process."
Troyer acknowledges he will miss his shipmates and the camaraderie that came with the organization.
"This brotherhood means a lot to me," said Troyer. "I joined under negative circumstances, but I'll leave with a greater respect for others."
Underwood will miss collaborating with Troyer on various projects but wants him to stay himself and continue to follow his heart.
"I just want him to keep doing it the way he wants to do it," said Underwood. "He doesn't have to be a person that he's not. He is great with the skills he has now. He just needs to continue to learn and grow. I will be sad to see him leave."
A World War II veteran once said, "Our military legacy is not defined by how many years we serve. It is defined by the hard work, dedication and effort shown from the beginning to the end of our military career."
Over the lifespan of an aircraft carrier, with more than 250,000 Sailors in rotation, Troyer has been given the opportunity to physically leave his mark on Harry S. Truman.
"This ship is constantly changing and I have to be cognizant of that," said Troyer. "For a ship where painting occurs daily, if my work does stand the test of time and makes it to the ship's decommissioning, it would be an honor."