Portraits for Patriots: 2-114th families presented paintings from nonprofit

Melinda Bowman shows off a portrait of her family after it was presented to her at the National Guard Armory on Highway 12 Saturday by Tampa Bay-based nonprofit Painting for Good Causes (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Staff Writer

Tears flowed at the National Guard Armory on Highway 12 Saturday, but the main emotion filling the small presentation room was joy. 

Three families of those deployed with the Army National Guard 2-114th Field Artillery Regiment were in attendance to receive a special gift from a national nonprofit - painted portraits of the men deployed, along with their entire families. 

The unit was deployed to the Middle East in June in support of Operation Spartan Shield. 

“It was breathtaking, absolutely breathtaking more than i ever expected,” said Starkville native Missy Bittle, whose husband, Major Dennis Bittle, is deployed with the 2-114th. “I’m just so thankful for this organization and their time and effort and all that they’ve done.” 

The three portraits were made possible by Tampa Bay-based nonprofit Painting for Good Causes, a 501(c)(3) organization that creates and presents oil paintings to not only families of deployed servicemen and servicewomen, but also foster children and families whose child is being treated for cancer or rare illnesses. 

The three families on the receiving end of the paintings on Saturday are part of a Family Readiness Group, which is a command-sponsored organization of family members, volunteers, and soldiers belonging to a unit. The goal of the group is to provide an avenue of mutual support and assistance, and a network of communications among the family members, the chain of command, and community resources.

“We connected up with this Family Readiness Group and offered to paint for their families,” said Painting for Good Causes Board of Director member and volunteer Doyle Mills. “Over the summer, founder and director Laurie Anspach painted portraits for 32 military families across Mississippi. Our work is all about community and compassion.” 

Painting for Good Causes is made up of 55 volunteer portrait artists from across the country who volunteer their time. The group also works with more than two dozen other non-profits nationally. 

Ackerman native Melinda Bowman, the wife of Lt. Col. Rodney Bowman, who is the battalion commander for the 2-114th, is the mother of two sons who are also deployed with the unit: Lt. Austin Bowman, 24, and Sgt. Cole Bowman. 

Through tears, Bowman said the painting was a wonderful gift. 

“I think I heard someone call it breathtaking, somebody else we don’t even know, never met, would take the time and dedication to do something like that to give back is just an amazing thing,” she said. 

Military service is important in the Bowman family, with this currently deployment being the third for Lt. Col. Rodney Bowman, and the first for the Bowman’s two sons. 

“I have a daughter that will be 18 tomorrow, we are the only ones left back at home,” Bowman said. “(Lt. Col. Rodney Bowman) is the battalion commander for the 2-114th, so there’s a lot of stress on him. Having your sons over there is a lot of stress on him, too.”

Despite being in the same unit, Bowman said her husband and sons are rarely together during their deployment. 

“They may all be over in one general area, but they’re not together in the same building, they’re not sitting down having supper every night  and he doesn’t get to see them very often and doesn’t get to talk to them very much,” she said. 

When asked what she planned to do when her husband and sons come home sometime between March and May of 2019, Bowman said she needs to “get a lot of hugs in.”

“But after that, we’ve got lots of changes going on in our family, so I’m not really sure,” Bowman said of the “welcome home” plans. “I hope we have a little bit of down time. My oldest son Austin just got engaged right before they left to go overseas so we will be planning a wedding and trying to get through college for the 18-year-old and the boys will just be settling into civilian life.” 

Starkville native Lydia Edwards, the wife of Chaplain Scott Edwards, beamed with pride as she showed the painting of her family to her three children, Reed, Jake, and Levi. 

“I feel just super thankful that somebody would take their time to do this service for us and volunteer their resources and time to make sure that we’re taken care of while they are overseas,” she said. 

Edwards said the plan for when her husband returns it to spend as much time with the family as possible to make up for lost time. 

“We’re going to take the kids out of school and do a fun trip, just welcome him back home and have a big party,” she said. “He’s the best. Just continue to pray for them and think about them and pray for their safety and morale and just that they are able to endure circumstances as it arises.” 

Bittle took a second to think about how best to describe her husband, and as she contemplated, one of her children exclaimed that he “is awesome.” 

“He loves the lord, he loves his family, myself and our four girls and loves his job and loves what he does,” Bittle said. “The first thing we will do when he gets back, we will probably just spend a few days at home, with nobody else with nobody coming around, especially with this little one right here, I don’t think she’s going to let him go for a while.”

Richard Stuckey, a family assistance specialist for northeast Mississippi with the Mississippi Army National Guard, is a retired solider who served in multiple deployments and was on-hand to witness the unveiling of the portraits. 

“We’re glad to host the ladies of the Family Readiness Group and it’s a privileged to serve the families of the state of the National Guard,” he said. “Mississippi has always supported their soldiers, moreso today than they have in years past, It’s appreciated.”