Artist Desiree Kelly put the finishing touches on a mural depicting jets and a refueler over the Detroit skyline just in time for Independence Day.
The Michigan Air National Guard recruiting office commissioned the work to spark conversation.
“One of the No. 1 things that we run into as recruiters is everyone knows the National Guard as the Army National Guard. They don’t realize there’s an Air National Guard,” said Master Sgt. Brandon Hamm, recruiting office supervisor, 127th Mission Support Group, Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
The team had the idea for the mural – something that would last longer than a billboard – in March. After getting the budget and some city hurdles cleared, Hamm discovered Beautify Earth, a creative agency that specializes in muralists, and found Kelly’s page. After checking out her previous pieces – Kelly’s work for Pepsi, the Detroit Pistons, and Foot Locker, among others, led to her making Crain’s Detroit Business’s 20 in their 20s list in 2019 – Hamm reached out.
“It was a really cool project to create,” Kelly said.
The only parameters Hamm gave were that the mural depict KC-10s and F-35s against the Detroit skyline.
“We wanted to include the refueling, because that’s one of our missions here at the base,” Hamm said.
Selfridge doesn’t have F-35s, but it’s one of the cooler planes, and the 127th MSG’s airmen might refuel them on a mission, Hamm said of its inclusion.
After providing photos for guidance, the recruiters left Kelly alone to add her flair, such as the color dripping through the skyline, and making it look like the planes might fly off into the blank space.
She drew the design on a grid and spent five days painting it. The owner of the parking lot at 458 West Lafayette Boulevard donated the spots closest to the wall so Kelly could use a lift to get to the top of the approximately 35 feet by 40 feet mural.
“It’s probably one of the larger pieces of I’ve done,” Kelly said. The bottom was 10 feet from the ground.”
She said as she creeped up in the lift to paint the clouds, she thought, “Oh, this is really high.”
Kelly said she had grandparents who served in the military, so she felt a connection to the theme. Even so, finishing the mural July 3 wasn’t planned.
Hamm said the finished product has been a hit on Selfridge and with the Michigan Air National Guard recruiting headquarters office; they’re hoping to do a group photo in front of it soon.
For now, Hamm’s team is promoting it through their social media accounts.
This is the first mural Hamm and his team has commissioned, but not the first time they’ve tapped into their creativity. One recruiter designed a postcard to go in a Valpak; the QR code on it let the office track how often it was scanned.
And Hamm said that a few years ago, they made a music video featuring a song he wrote.
“We got a really good response from that,” he said.
More recently, his team has worked to get out in the community to meet potential guardsmen.
He likes to tout the Guard’s flexibility and the opportunities that flexibility presents. For younger recruits, that might mean being able to go to college full-time while getting military benefits like health care and tuition assistance. After graduation, they can pursue a civilian career or find one of the Guard’s full-time positions.
But for Hamm, who started his career on active duty, it meant being able to give his kids roots near family in Michigan while doing a job he loves.
“I’m a military brat, so I didn’t have that growing up,” he said.