I was first introduced to the art of James Dietz during my time spent in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Walking the halls of Regimental Headquarters as a young E-4, I was in awe of the depictions of Ranger’s past. To visually experience so much history of a famed military unit, that I was now a part of, was deeply meaningful. The early Colonial Ranger’s depicted in Finish Him Up, or Rangers who deployed to Panama in Energetically, Will I Meet the Enemies of My Country. Or, the depiction of Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart in Task Force Ranger. Every young Ranger knew of the bravery that day, made ‘Hollywood’ in the film Black Hawk Down.
As I looked upon all the paintings, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would make my mark. What part of our unit’s history would I play? I also thought about how the artist captured the detail of human emotion and authenticity of each time period. With an admiration for military history, and love for the artist’s work, I began buying prints of the paintings when and where I could. The images inspired me to be a better Ranger, and I couldn’t help but want to be reminded.
Years later, post military service, I landed a dream job: Product Manager for Oakley Standard Issue. I couldn’t believe my luck despite my common saying, ‘luck is when opportunity and preparation meet.’ Through strong connections with industry friends, and an appetite for ideation and improving the capability of our warfighter, I went to work. Not long into employment, I began creating several Special Make-Ups (SMUs) for our division. SMUs are a unique treatment to frames that celebrate either an artist, event, or process. Memorial Day is a long revered National Holiday, and it occurred to me that this day might just align with an artist series with James Dietz.
Not afraid to do a cold call, I searched for James’ contact information and called him up. Put simply, I asked if he’d be interested in doing an artist series with Oakley. He was just as excited as I was. It’s a dream to collaborate with an artist I revere. For James, he was honored to work with a global brand such as Oakley.
We decided on something simple, but deeply meaningful. We commissioned James to sketch three notable weapons used in conflicts throughout history. The M1 Garand featured in the WWII painting Silencing the Guns, the .50 Caliber Machine Gun used in Task Force Ranger, and the M4A1 Carbine in the 75th Ranger Regiment depiction in Iraq, I Shall Defeat Them on the Field of Battle. Each weapon is a touch point with veterans who served in those conflicts. The artwork is displayed on the stem, the paintings and art on the microbag, and is finished off with a ‘Dietz’ lens etch.
The journey came full circle when we had the opportunity to travel to James’ home in Seattle to conduct an interview. We filmed his home and studio. We had the privilege to understand his process and why he paints these amazing heroes. It was revealing to discover that James’ son serves in the Military. His love and admiration for our heroes clearly inspires him to paint.
James realism to these events in history is because he uses real people. Some who have served in the event are used as models. He consults with them on the event himself to ensure that every detail is presented with the utmost authenticity. Costumes, weapons, and vehicles are all important props to get it right.
It was only a few months later that I found myself sitting for a James Dietz depiction. James traveled to the Los Angeles area to paint a WWII depiction of the “Screaming Eagles” of Easy, Dog, and Fox companies, 506th PIR, titled Day of Days. Using the help of about 15 men, most prior service, Dietz and others had all of us dress in WWII uniforms, outfitted with period weapons, and even rolling out an old tank. Once all in position, James stepped back and snapped photos, sketched, and did his ‘thing.’ A humbling and fun experience, I left excited to see what the final product would become.
Less than a couple months later, James sent me a final artist print and another sketch of my head up close. The likeness to my expression and detail in every aspect was amazing. Watching James work on the fly is amazing as well. He is snapping pictures from different angles, and doing quick sketches on the fly. Most of all, he loves the process and is happy and excited to witness these scenes recreated.
A journey that I thought had been full circle had taken another lap. As a young Ranger admiring and collecting his work, to collaborating on Oakley eyewear, to being depicted in a work of art. As a look back upon that experience, I am inspired to have spent time with James. I admire those who hold such passion for immortalizing our nation’s heroes. To know I have played a small part in celebrating his gift means all the world.