Cahalan finds peace through his art

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS A love of art and music helps U.S. Air Force veteran Dan Cahalan ease stress. He particularly enjoys making airbrush paintings of his favorite musicians, such as Waylon Jennings. Also in his art studio are several guitars, which he enjoys playing.



Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.

LAUREL — “I wanted to do something for my country.”

As his time in high school came to a close, Laurel veteran and Marshall County jailer Dan Cahalan said he was motivated to serve in the armed forces.

“It was funny, because when I went in, in basic training, they all asked us that question: Why did you join?” he said. “I’d say about 90 percent of them said ‘school’ or ‘money for school,’ and they thought I was a little strange when I said I just wanted to do something for my country.”

Cahalan said he didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school.

“I went to college and I didn’t quite like it; school wasn’t for me,” he said.

After going through basic training, Cahalan said he “grew up fast,” and saw a lot of immaturity among young men his age when he came back to Marshalltown.

“They always have kind of a sense of responsibility for themselves,” he said of those who have served.

Unlike many who join the military, Cahalan was the first in his immediate family to serve. He joined the U.S. Air Force and worked as a security police officer, which sparked a lifelong passion for law enforcement.

Cahalan spent the majority of his time in the service through the 1990s at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. His time in the military came to an end after a bad neck injury.

“Then I got hurt, then I got to come home,” he said.

While his injury qualifies him for disability benefits, Cahalan still works as a jailer.

“I had a lot of people that said ‘Why don’t you just not work?'” he said with a smile. “It didn’t feel right, as long as I can still walk and whatnot; I may be a lot of pain, but I still do it.”

Initially, Cahalan said he was interested in becoming a deputy, but complications with his neck injury meant he couldn’t be on patrol. He found a place at the Marshall County Jail, and he’s worked there for the last 18 years.

“Everything I ever did was in law enforcement,” he said. “It is part of law enforcement, you wear a badge and you’re also expected to be at a higher level than a normal person, even when you’re not working.”

With the stress brought on by his job, along with nagging issues with his injury, Cahalan said he finds respite in art; specifically, he loves to paint airbrush pieces.

“It’s stress relief and joy,” he said. “I can just turn on some music and get lost in it.”

As a boy, Cahalan’s mother noticed her son had a talent for drawing. In college, she took some of his work to a college professor, and his talents only grew from that education.

“I do a lot of musicians,” he said of his art. “I’ll put in Waylon Jennings CD, and I start going to town … I lose track of time.”

Next year, some of Cahalan’s work will be on display at Fisher Community Center.

“I’m kind of excited about that, that’s all new to me,” he said.

Playing guitar is another way Cahalan relaxes, relieves stress and forgets about the pain his injury brings on.

“It doesn’t hurt as bad to do stuff like that,” he said. “In my mind, I’m not even thinking about it … you’ve got to have something.”


Do you know a military veteran who should be profiled? Send your suggestions to Editor Jeff Hutton at: or contact American Legion Post 46 Commander Randy Kessler at: