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Fort Mill grad is honored illustrator for Marines

In just two years, Michael Petersheim has evolved from talented Fort Mill High School artist to award-winning combat illustrator and photographer for the U.S. Marines.

The 20-year-old lance corporal recently won first place and three honorable mentions for his illustrations at the annual Military Graphic Artist of the Year (MILGRAPH) Awards program, which is judged by professional artists and multi-media specialists outside the military.

"Receiving this award was a big accomplishment," Petersheim said. "This year, my goal was to win first in the illustration category, and I think I executed that goal very well."

Petersheim is assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He expects to be deployed with the unit early next year.

"MILGRAPH is a prestigious competition open to members of the five armed services," said Sgt. Richard Blumenstein, a combat correspondent with the 24th MEU. "As a junior Marine, Petersheim stands out amongst his peers and his artistic talent serves as an indispensable asset to our office."

The illustrator field no longer exists in the Marines, Michael Petersheim said, so he sets aside photographs from assignments that capture the moment. He then selects one or two to draw.

"It's not really necessarily for my job; it's mostly just for fun," said Petersheim, who spent Memorial Day on assignment at Fleet Week in New York City.

"I like and enjoy photography, but my one true love is drawing."

As a photographer, Petersheim has been trained to capture emotion. He follows a shooting sequence - such as establishing, close-up, extreme close-up, medium and wide-angle - and strives to get the photos that tell the story the best.

As a result, his illustrations are powerful.

His first-place honor came for a graphite pencil drawing of a smiling Marine shaking hands with an Iraqi child. He received honorable mentions for illustrations of Gen. James F. Amos, the U.S. Marine Corps commandant; a Marine on patrol in Iraq; and a portrait of retired Gunnery Sgt. Samuel Rivera.

Petersheim has taken training classes at Fort Meade, Md., an Army base noted for its outstanding arts programs, since joining the Marines in June 2009.

When he graduated from Fort Mill High School, Petersheim credited his teachers for inspiring him to go into a career that blended military with art. Through high school, he made his best friends through ROTC.

"I always told my children that they have to embrace and love what they do in life," said Sharon Petersheim, Michael's mother. "I'm extremely proud of him.

"Michael is just a born natural in art, and his love from an early age has always been the Marine Corps."

He also draws portraits for friends and family as a side job.

One on one

Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Petersheim of Fort Mill is a combat photographer who draws illustrations based on his photographs. He spoke recently with The Herald:

How would you describe your work as a combat photographer?

My job entails creating photographs as documentation for anything and everything that the Marine Corps is. I photograph anything from promotion ceremonies to Marine training exercises and for other photographers not with a Marine Expeditionary Unit.

This includes deploying with infantry units and documenting their affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anything that the Marine Corps needs photographed, I shoot.

What's great about your job? What are the challenges?

I get a chance to see what many Marines don't. I get to do jobs outside of my initial assignment and work with many different people.

As a combat cameraman, I may be expected to go out with infantry units so physical training is a big thing for my shop.

Another challenge is deadlines. At times, well most times, I am expected to push out material at a same-day turnaround for public media and our Marine Corps website, as I am currently working in a consolidated Combat Camera/Public Affairs unit.

As currently the only junior Combat Camera Marine with the 24th MEU, I am also expected to accomplish tasks outside of my assignment, such as capturing video as well as creating graphics and artwork.

What kind of events have you covered?

Being at Lejeune for nearly a year and a half, essentially waiting to deploy, I have had the luxury to cover shoots for almost anything - beach landings, infantry training, unit gatherings, deployment homecomings, promotions, change of command ceremonies, retirement ceremonies, tank courses, foreign military, etc.

You name it, I've covered it. Working for public affairs, I am like a photojournalist, except the only things I write are captions.

Julie Graham