An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Drawing Inspiration: Air Force artist John Zeilman creates the graphics that color Scott

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amber Kelly-Woodward
  • 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When someone like John "Mr. Z" Zeilman, a graphic artist with the 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs shop, says "he's seen it all" . . . he pretty much has. 

That's because this Jefferson City, Mo., native has served here more than 30 years and while the base has remained about the same size, there has been a constant influx of activations and changes that he's helped to document and publicize. 

His job is to create visual aides for briefings, visits and commander's communications requirements so that audiences may better understand what is being presented. 

When discussing the changes he's seen through the years, he said, "I saw the USTRANSCOM activation and the changes in the old dorms that were painted pink and yellow and green. And, when I first got here (in 1977) they used to show 16 millimeter safety films during the safety briefings that put everyone to sleep, including me. So I illustrated the safety issues that featured faces of people I worked with. In the end I had several hundred paintings and everyone stayed awake because they wanted to see who was doing what." 

He said that back then they illustrated everything by hand. There were hundreds of viewgraphs for briefings that were shown using an overhead projector and charts were done with tape. Though there were no computers--and if there were, they were the size of refrigerators--there were about 80 people in photo and graphics at the time. 

"From viewgraphs we went to 35 millimeter slides," Mr. Z added. "Video didn't come along until about 10 years after. The biggest change I've seen is computers. I remember the first computer I saw during my Army days was the size of a fridge and all it could do was add, subtract, multiply and divide. I saw my first handheld calculator in Vancouver, Wash., in 1971 and that's all it could do, too." 

Before graduating with two bachelor degrees, one in Art and one in Education, Mr. Z knew he was going to go to Vietnam so he signed up for Officer's Candidate School with the Army in June of 1967. 

As an Army 2nd Lieutenant and a combat engineer, he worked in 1st Army's art department before being shipped to Vietnam for a year. While there he earned a Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in ground operations against hostile force from June 1969 to June 1970. 

After five years in the Army, Mr. Z worked for an advertising firm, followed by a stint with the Washington State Department of Highways Southern District where he was in charge of the art department. 

"I drew pictures of the Columbia River, bridges, and provided illustrations for the annual environmental impact statement reports, as well as working some public relations issues and taking photos," said Mr. Z. He decided to work for the government and landed a job with the Air Force Communications Service at Richards Gebaur Air Force Base in Kansas City, Mo. (the base is now closed and AFCS is now the Air Force Communications Agency here.) 

Since being here, he worked to collect historical pictures, magazines and newspaper articles from Olaf T. Jenson's collection. Mr. Jenson saved clippings and art from his Army Air Corps days in the 1920's and 30's. Mr. Z ended up with about 3,600 of Mr. Jenson's images on 105 CDs. 

"It was really interesting to experience so much history," said Mr. Z. "I also added another 1,000 images of different historical images of base." 

Mr. Z married his wife, Kim, in 1990 and has one daughter who is about to graduate from high school. In his spare time, he studies his genealogy. 

Originally planning to become a teacher, Mr. Z has a State of Missouri lifetime teaching certification from the University of Missouri. Even though he took a different path, he enjoys what he does. 

"I love to draw, and I love my job," said Mr. Z. "I also like working for the government."