- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Hey, soldier. If you’re on the 18th green at the Fort Sill golf course and you’re thinking of using a foot wedge to escape from the bunker or believe that a 14-foot putt is a gimme, remember this.

Saint Barbara is watching.

Not that she’s especially interested in golf, mind you. It’s just that an oversized image of the patron saint of artillerists (and miners and sappers and firemen, folks who routinely come into dangerous proximity to explosives and fire) is perched there on the hillside at the back of the green, watching over everyone headed to the clubhouse.

The 7-foot-tall bronze statue was unveiled before the start of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Hardy Stone Golf Tournament and in time for the annual Fires Conference that will bring in artillerists and defense contractors from across the nation and beyond.

The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/1SmEezf ) Fort Sill Commander Maj. Gen John Rossi joined the sculptor, Mari Bolen, and former Fort Sill Commander Lt. Gen. David Halverson in removing the crimson fabric that covered the statue to reveal a warrior ready to step forward to protect those under her care.

Halverson, who set in motion the chain of events that culminated in a dedication, said the statue is a symbol of the mission and heritage of artillerymen.

“You need to have a belief, you need to have trust, and Saint Barbara has always been there for all of us,” he said.

Rossi said the statue is also a reminder of the imprint that Halverson - who will retire from the Army later this month after 37 years of service - has made on Fort Sill. Halverson, he said, instituted the CG’s Fitness Challenge, began pressing for money to build the new Freedom Elementary School, and oversaw the integration of the Air Defense Artillery when it moved to Fort Sill from Fort Bliss, Texas.

Brenda Spencer-Ragland, the post’s director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said the statue was a vision that Halverson had as he was walking the golf course years ago. The post renovated the course, built a new clubhouse and installed an irrigation system. There wasn’t enough money to create a “signature hole,” but the idea didn’t die. Because the golf course is operated without taxpayer support - MWR operations must operate with funds they generate - the project was deferred, but not forgotten. The course finally had its “signature hole,” one protected by Saint Barbara.

And this is a Saint Barbara who looks perfectly capable of protecting just about anyone or anything.

To recap the legend of Saint Barbara: She was the daughter of a wealthy pagan in what is now Turkey in the third century. She converted to Christianity and was tortured and condemned - and finally executed by her own father. A bolt of lightning struck him down, which forever associated her with things too hot to handle - a pretty good job description for artillerymen.

There are plenty of images of Saint Barbara on post: medals, certificates, even a beautiful stained glass window in the Old Post Chapel.

This Saint Barbara isn’t quite like them. Bolen - whose other bronzes have included Kiowa and Comanche subjects, including Quanah Parker - acknowledges that her creation leans more toward “Xena: Warrior Princess” (those are her words) than traditional representations. She’s no demure maiden shut up in a castle: She’s put on armor, her sword is upraised instead of being pointed toward the ground, and she’s standing her ground, letting you know that you ain’t all that. She’s more barbarian Boudica than beatific Barbara.

Bolen actually created this Barbara for a 3½-foot statue that’s been in Snow Hall since 2010. At the time, she wanted a Barbara that young soldiers could look to for inspiration instead of a Barbara who “doesn’t look like she could protect anyone.”

When it came time to create the statue for the golf course, she worked for three months with clay to enlarge the figure; then it took three months at the foundry to cast the statue. Thirty separate pieces were then welded to make the figure.

Which, by the way, would just fit into her pickup. Bolen drove from her home in Montana to the foundry in Utah, loaded up the statue and headed for Fort Sill.

The trip took 3½ days. There was a snowstorm in Utah, and then she carefully trailed the storms that recently swept through the Plains to bring her creation to the post for its unveiling.

Bolen’s father was in the coast artillery and served in the Pacific in World War II. Her vision of Saint Barbara is a tribute not only to her father but also to the men and women of today’s artillery.

“My dad was an artilleryman and I was an Army brat,” she said. “This is my contribution to the Army and all it stands for.”


Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com

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