Renowned Airbrush Artist Mickey Harris to do 'K9 Heroes' Ambulance Job

BY GUY MCCARTHY
Published: 13 March 2012

A high-profile airbrush artist is in Banning, CA to custom paint a 1991 ambulance as a rolling tribute to Search and Rescue, Police and Military Working Dogs.

Mickey Harris has appeared on cable programs including Overhaulin', Car Crazy, Garage Mahal and Drag Race High, and he's painted vehicles for the Pentagon, CNN and many celebrities.

Harris, 55, flew into Palm Springs on Sunday and came straight to Banning, CA, about 85 miles east of Los Angeles, where he met with the owner of the vehicle who drove it down from Los Gatos, CA that same day.

The America's Forgotten Heroes Tribute Vehicle paint job was commissioned by a nonprofit out of Los Gatos, CA, south of San Francisco, Banning Mayor Don Robinson said.

Today the artists are in the process of trying to recreate a heart-wrenching image from a funeral service in Iowa for fallen Navy SEAL Jon T. Tumilson, when his dog Hawkeye lay down by his casket for the entire service.

Tumilson, 35, of San Diego, was among 30 Americans and eight Afghans killed Aug. 6, 2011, when a rocket-propelled grenade disabled the Chinook troop transport helicopter they were in. It crashed on what became the deadliest day for U.S. forces in nearly a decade of conflict in Afghanistan.

Charles Young, the manager of the auto garage being used for the paint job said the job came to them by chance and necessity. "They contacted Mickey Harris to do the custom airbrush, and we've worked with him in the past," Young said. "Mickey contacted us to see if he could use the facilities here, and some of us to help him get this vehicle done for the organization," Young said. "The organization flew Mickey out from Tennessee on Sunday and he arrived here the same time as the ambulance.

"Mickey's very well-known for his tribute work, a 9/11 vehicle, and a lot of projects with the military and our armed forces," said Mayor Robinson. "Charles and his guys are getting it ready for the paint. They're going to leave the flag scene on it. Then we'll go in and put the dog scenes on it. Mickey is the project manager and he has more idea of the big picture what we're going to do."

Harris said he came from his home Cosby, Tennessee. "I live where the old moonshiners and car thieves are, way up in there where 'Deliverance' was probably written," Harris said.

He said he started painting vehicles when he was 17 and he's been doing it professionally ever since. He said he came from Tennessee to Banning to do this project because the theme and purpose appealed to him - with some convincing from his wife. "This is a great cause for the dogs," Harris said. "The nonprofit group that is run by dog handlers wanted to have a vehicle to recognize and honor these four-footed heroes."

"To tell you the truth when the project was first propsed I barely looked at it and kind of blew it off," said Harris. "Now my wife, I call her Ellie Mae Clampett, because my wife is a huge animal lover and we have 16 dogs ourselves. She started conversing back-and-forth with some of the Military and Police dog handlers that volunteer with the group and it didn't take too long with information we were provided, very cool stories about the sacrifices these dogs make, it became very emotional for my wife, and that was it for me!"

Harris said the story of what search-and-rescue, police and military dogs have done is what won him over in the end.

"Some of the money to do this project was raised by the Vietnam vets, and they said they didn't want any recognition out of it. When asked why no recognition they said, 'Because we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for those dogs we had in 'Nam. When we pulled out of Vietnam, America didn't bring those dogs back. They were killed or just left behind. We were told to leave them behind and forget about them. We aren't going to forget them this time'."

"There's legislation nowadays, these dogs we have in Afghanistan and Iraq, they want to make sure these dogs get the care and honor that they've earned for the American lives that they've saved", said Harris. "And to make sure they get brought back too, and treated like the heroes that they are. This tribute vehicle will help bring awareness to these issues."

"You know a dog is so loyal," Harris said. "We're going to put images on here that we hope touch people. We're going to show images on here that are strong. We want people to get emotionally attached and touched by what we paint here."

So that's our job is to convey that message. To raise awareness: Dogs are the most loyal creature to a human, far more loyal than we are to each other, and we should have some kind of loyalty to them, it's the right thing to do."

With March 24 less than two weeks away, Harris said he is confident he and his crew in Banning can finish the job on time.

"We will. It'll get done, even if we have to sleep when we're dead."