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Tattoos & Army Culture


It's been forever since I wrote last - and there are a couple reasons. First and foremost, work had gotten the better of me. After constant 14-18 hr days, I'd just not had the energy or inspiration to write. I really put alot of thought and energy into what I write. I want to give you a taste of life here from a "sane" mind. Which leads me to my second reason for not writing. The constant work / no down time / ridiculous changing expectations / ever increasing work load all contributed to my "less than ready" mental state. Plainly put - I think I hit the proverbial "wall" a week or two ago. My work output suffered, my mood was bad and I definitely couldn't write. Thankfully the team gave me a reality check and I'm back to normal - which means you get another update.

Hope you enjoy this observation. I've got a few more already composed and will attempt to send them out individually, so you're not overwhelmed by a huge email. Here you go.....

Tattoos & Army culture

Ya know, I almost feel naked sometimes. I know that sounds weird, given that we’re all required to wear uniforms. And thank God for that – I’d probably have nightmares and need years of therapy if I saw some of these people naked. But that’s not what I’m getting at. Whether we’re doing PT (physical training), going to / from work, or at work, off duty – we wear some kind of uniform – today it’s the ACU, soon to be replaced by the multi cams. If doing PT, we wear shorts, athletic shoes, and t-shirt. It’s during PT times that I feel most naked.

The army has always been a culture unto itself, with unique bonding mechanisms, hierarchy protocols, tell tale haircuts and definite fads. Clothing fads come and go – but the uniform remains the same. Nowadays – especially among the younger generation and even some career Soldiers (not so younger generations) tattoos are de rigueur. And this is what makes me feel naked.

Now, I’ve got a few tattoos, but neither is visible when I’m wearing clothes – which is 99% of the time. However, I’ve had the uncomfortable sensation of feeling almost naked around Soldiers, especially in the gym. For those who are uneducated in the tattoo culture, a sleeve is a mural or set of tattoos on ones arm extending upward from the wrist or downward from the shoulder. The Army has sanctioned them – acquiescing to the inevitable fact that if you want to fill the ranks – yer gonna have to take what you can get. And what you get is people with this tattoo fetish.

I know, tattoos aren’t something new, my dad has one on his forearm he got in the 50’s when he was in the Navy. Yeah, tattoos have been around forever it seems, but to this extent? I don’t think so.

So, the sleeve is/was a huge “fad” tattoo location for a couple years. It’s passé to have just one or two on the shoulder, arm area etc. They days of the simple arm band are long gone (they were big in the 90’s). Now you’ll see intricate sleeve tattoos extending up the arm and across the shoulder and sometimes the back. My buddy Mark has one that extends across his back, over his shoulder, midway down his upper arm and across part of his chest. He wants more. Jesus, for what some guys spend on tattoos you could use as a down payment on a house! So, that’s the sleeve. But I’ve noticed a few new places for tattoos.

The calf and shin are the new “sleeve” locations for mural tattoos. You’ll see gothic crosses, a snake intertwined with a skull, creeping flames, intricate medieval arches, names/logos, etc. on guys now. Oh, don’t let me forget the leg band, similar to the arm band, obviously just lower. But what do we call these murals on the calf / shin areas – pant legs? If a mural on the arm is a sleeve, doesn’t it make sense to call the ones on the legs pant legs? They’re really not pants, right? There more like knee high socks, the kind kids wore in gym class in the 70’s. So, knee highs – that’s what I’m calling them.

But wait! There’s more – the back. On women, back tattoos are generally located at either the base of the neck or at the base of the spine. Those at the spine are commonly referred to as the “tramp stamp.” Wish I could take credit for that one because I think it’s kinda funny, but the tramp stamp moniker has been around for awhile. That tattoo is visible most times when the shirt becomes untucked, or in the states, when the clothes don’t actually fit right and parts of the abdomen and/or hips are exposed. For guys, full back tattoos are becoming more popular. Colin, a dude who lives in a nearby building, has a full back tattoo. I wouldn’t have noticed it if we didn’t share the same shower building. And ya can’t help but notice it – the thing is huge, covers his back, and is mostly bright blue. If I had something that gaudy on my body, I wouldn’t want to be constantly reminded of it either. Hey, keeping tattoo artists in business, one crazy mural at a time.

But wait! I’m not done. I’ve noticed the calf has already given way to another more baffling location (at least to me). And that is the neck. Oh yeah, you’re gonna love this. There are so many it’s almost too hard to describe – I wish this was an “audio” book, but then people would complain because I’ve been accused of talking to fast. A coworker told me once he needs to sit down when I talk because he gets dizzy at the rate of my speech. I just laughed. Anyway, the neck.

For the love of your Mother, why would anyone want to get a neck tattoo? Even if you wear collared shirts all the time (I’m sure most of these cretins don’t even own a collared shirt, unless it’s part of the military uniform) the thing is visible when you move. I’ve got lots of favorites, but one that certainly didn’t make that list is the word Psycho. Yeah, you read that correctly – I’ve seen three guys and one chick with the word Psycho tattooed across the back of the neck. Why advertise that you’re a lunatic? It’s already apparent that you’re a dumbass for getting a neck tattoo. Does the free advertisement add to your value? What kind of creature do you intend to attract? What will the kids and grandkids say years from now when that Psycho tattoo is wrinkled and saggy yet still visible (yeah, these creatures seem to be prolific breeders whose spawn starts off in the world “in the hole” so to speak). Baffling I tell ya.

And finally, the one that really inspired me to write – the pistol. Yeah, that’s right, a tattoo of a pistol, usually on the neck, just below the ear, pointing toward the face. Symbology? A potential suicide victim? Someone who’s into being pistol whipped? Whatever the case, a pistol tattoo on the neck is disturbing to everyone except the tattoo artist – to him its income. I’ve seen stars, teardrops, arrows, hearts, and other names (besides Psycho) all on the neck. I hope that area doesn’t become the new mural site. What would you call it – a muffler, a turtleneck, a pearl necklace (no, that’s something entirely different)? How about a noose, cuz ya sure killed yer chances of getting a job outside of the army with that thing on your neck. Real classy. Neck tattoos kinda make me feel dirty, like I want to bathe and talk to a priest – and I’m not even Catholic.

I guess tattoos are supposed to be cool, but if you look like everyone else, aren’t you just a conformist? How do these identically placed tattoos mean anything unique? Mine are individual tattoos and tell no “story” and are definitely not faddish. I waited until after my 40th birthday to get my first tat. I had seen what I wanted on someone in 2000. However, I waited until 2004 to finally design and get my unique tattoo. The second and final came along 5 years later and was actually something I toyed with before deciding on the 1st one. So, I put much thought into what I wanted, waited, thought about it more, waited and finally got my permanent marks. I’m certain many of the Soldiers I’ve seen on base would look totally different had they waited awhile before taking the needle to their skin. But then again, tattoos seem to have become part of our Army culture.

There you have it my friends - another in a series of updates. Hope you are well. As always, your feedback is most welcome.


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