Former Marine Jessica Rambo Found New Way To Serve Through Art

Jessica Rambo

Jessica Rambo

Jessica Rambo grew up in a military family. Her mother and several of her uncles all served in the armed forces. “Although it wasn't really the family business, it definitely was something that I was proud [of],” she told Southern Living. “When I was a lost soul trying to figure out what path I wanted, that was the clearest in my mind of what I wanted to do.” But Rambo wasn’t looking for just any type of role, she wanted to be a combat cameraman with the United States Marine Corps.  In 2006, she made her dream a reality.  Through her creative lens, Rambo told the stories of her fellow service members and also documented the humanitarian relief work taking place behind the front lines. “We do a lot more than just fighting in wars,” Rambo said. “The diversity of Marines and their backgrounds is always a good story to tell.” She spent time in Hawaii and also traveled to various parts of Asia and Australia. She was later stationed at Quantico and then the Pentagon before her military career came to a sudden stop. “In 2011, I got in a really bad car accident. And that kind of was the demise of my military career,” Rambo said. 

Following multiple surgeries, Rambo enrolled at the University of North Carolina Greensboro in 2016 to get back to what she loved: the arts. While studying sculpture and ceramics, she launched a student’s veterans association that volunteered at The Servant Center, a local organization that provided services for homeless and disabled veterans. Rambo came up with the idea to create an art class for the vets so she could teach them how to tell their own stories. “Getting veterans to know, whether they're writing songs or poems or journaling or drawing, sculpting with clay or metal or anything like that, that they, too, are artists. And they have a really incredible story to tell.” But first, she had to gain their trust. “If you tell a veteran, ‘Oh, this is therapy’, it's not going to go so well. But if you earn the respect of a veteran, they'll be your battle buddy for life,” Rambo explained. “And that's kind of how this whole thing happened was those six veterans that gave me a chance to tell my story and to listen to theirs with no judgment of where they came from.”

Her veteran art project grew in popularity and in 2018, Rambo decided to take it a step further. She bought an old school bus, gutted it, and turned it into a traveling art studio that she calls The Painted Buffalo.  She said it’s a name she chose for a reason. “I really resonated with the American standard of how they treated bison in our history. Sometimes, the veterans, that's how we feel,” Rambo said. “We're used and abused and then we're discarded when we're no longer needed.”

Painted Buffalo Bus

Jessica Rambo

As part of her Paint Can Project the former Marine collected ammo cans and filled them with art supplies. “When I met up with veterans, I kind of gave a prompt like, ‘What do you want your children to know about you that they might not know?’” Rambo said one of the primary goals of her traveling studio was to create a sense of community among veterans and to remind them that although their service is over, they still matter. “That's my greatest achievement of this is just getting veterans together who would never be together,” said Rambo. “And so, all of those connections are just really part of the bigger effect that I didn't realize was going to happen. But it did.”

Rambo, her 11-year-old son, three dogs, a cat and two leopard geckos now travel in the Painted Buffalo 2.0, a second school bus they built from the ground up. The “zoo,” as she calls them, has visited 38 states, including Alaska, and has worked with more than 300 veterans along the way. Eventually, Rambo said she wants to create a home base for the Painted Buffalo. “Our goal is really to have a property where veterans, nomads, women, can come and really have a safe place to kind of set their pack down, breathe a second, and find a communal spot where we can build.” 

But no matter where she ends up, Rambo knows she will always be on a mission to help her fellow veterans. “I had a call to serve my country and although my service ended briskly and shorter than I anticipated, that doesn't mean my service ended.”

To find out if The Painted Buffalo is coming to your area, check out Rambo’s Instagram.

Thank you for your service, Jessica.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles