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Military tattoos in the age of Iraq
June 22, 2008 7:52 PM   Subscribe

The Skins They Carried. Military tattoos in the age of Iraq.
The second type of military tattoo is for soldiers who want to make their uniform permanent. Some do this for practical reasons, tattooing dog tags complete with military ID and Social Security numbers onto their torsos in case they become separated from their heads during combat. These tattoos, called “meat tags,” can be elaborate: One Killeen variation shows the dog tags in an open wound, wrapped around an exposed rib.
posted by thatwhichfalls (32 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those who'd like to see more of these, there are some galleries of military tattoos here and here.
posted by vorfeed at 8:20 PM on June 22, 2008


The first thing it reminded me of were those photographs of Russian prison tattoos -- less codified, but still somewhat similar. Interesting stuff.
posted by Forktine at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2008


The 'Blood Angels' in the article (down the bottom). Did they rip off Games Workshop or vice versa?
posted by wilful at 8:55 PM on June 22, 2008


Indelible Ink .
"Artist Mary Beth Heffernan spent three months in Twentynine Palms photographing the Marines and their [tattoo] homages to the dead. She haunted tattoo parlors late-night, gaining the trust of various tattoo artists first and then the Marines who dashed in at the last minute, sometimes due to be deployed the next day – who would be back in Iraq before their skin stopped weeping, before the ink was dry...A selection of Heffernan’s photos – 10 images of freshly etched memorial tattoos – is collected in an exhibit, 'The Soldier’s Skin: An Endless Edition...'"
posted by ericb at 9:00 PM on June 22, 2008


Some do this for practical reasons, tattooing dog tags complete with military ID and Social Security numbers onto their torsos in case they become separated from their heads during combat.

Not only American soldiers, but also Iraqi soldiers (despite religious prohibition in their country).
"'My age is the same as the olive tree,' reads the blue tattoo on Qaisar Tariq al-Essawi's left shoulder.

Al-Eassawi, 36, got the tattoo so his family and close friends could recognise his remains if he ended up in a morgue.

'I selected this wording because only my family and close friends know about our olive tree which was planted by my father when I was born,' al-Essawi, a father of two boys, told IRIN in Baghdad.

One response to sudden and violent death which has become commonplace in Iraq's turmoil, is the emergence of a new subculture - the etching of tattoo identities on people who fear becoming an unclaimed body in a packed morgue."*
posted by ericb at 9:07 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I was in high school in the late 1970's I used to hang around with an older guy named Randy. He had a unique tattoo on the edge of his right hand. As with all tattoos, it had a story behind it.

When he got his draft notice for Vietnam he decided to try to beat his induction, as many did, in a unique and clever way. He went over the rule book with a fine tooth comb, and found a passage to this effect; "No inductee will be admitted to the US Army who bears vulgar or obscene tattoos". Randy promptly went out and had "FUCK" tattooed on the outside edge of his right, or saluting hand.

At the time of his induction, the doctor examined Randy carefully and noticed the obscene tattoo. He told Randy; "Son, the rules have been changed, you're in the Army". Thankfully he was sent to Germany, and not Vietnam, where he listened to The Who very loudly on his stereo.

After the war Randy worked as a Boilermaker for a while, then decided to go to law school. Realizing that it was probably not in his best interest to be a lawyer with "FUCK" tattooed on his hand, he decided to have it removed. This being the late 1970's, tattoos were not removed with high tech lasers. Instead, he was able to use his GI benefits to have it excised in a military hospital. Indeed, I saw where a giant, half-football-shaped chunk of flesh had been cut away and the resulting wound coarsely sutured back up.

Randy told me that after the surgery he was told to physically walk the tattooed chunk of flesh down to biopsy. He was highly motivated to simply walk out the door with this awesome memento, but he felt it might disrupt further GI benefits if he didn't do as told.

My great regret in all this is that I TOOK NO PHOTOS...
posted by Tube at 9:08 PM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


“And I wanted to keep my faith somewhere. Some people carry a Bible into war, but I wanted something more permanent."

How about just refraining from killing, like the man said?
posted by pompomtom at 9:11 PM on June 22, 2008 [9 favorites]


Games Workshop definitely did not coin either the name "Blood Angels" or the winged-blood-drop image. I've seen them around before, although for some reason I always thought it was a Navy corpsman thing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:12 PM on June 22, 2008


March 20, 2007: Marine Corps to Clarify Tattoo Regulations.

Mar 24, 2007: Marine Corps Bans Tattoo Sleeves [video].
posted by ericb at 9:13 PM on June 22, 2008


March 20, 2007: Marine Corps to Clarify Tattoo Regulations.

Mar 24, 2007: Marine Corps Bans Tattoo Sleeves [video].


That seems logical. You can be a semi-retarded felon and become a marine, but if you have to many tattoos you can't. Priceless.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:19 PM on June 22, 2008


Tattoos rock.

The war sucks.

Sorry I have no substance to contribute.
posted by sourwookie at 9:19 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


They want to throw out active marines with full sleeves? With a war or two on? Yeah right.
posted by rtha at 9:34 PM on June 22, 2008


I was a bit disappointed because the story made no further reference to one of my favorite short stories: The Things They Carried (link to a very poorly formatted copy of the story on my own website.)
posted by rubin at 9:40 PM on June 22, 2008


They want to throw out active marines with full sleeves? With a war or two on? Yeah right.

the article specifically says that marines who already have sleeves will be grandfathered in.
posted by 256 at 9:42 PM on June 22, 2008


When mentioned in the article that the soldier with the spiderweb elbow tattoo wasn't allowed into the Marines, my first thought was "oh well of course not, that tattoo means you've KILLED somebody." Apply palm to face.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:56 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


If they ever instate the draft you are going to see a lot of people getting sleeves. I wonder if you got sleeves that were just skin color they would make an exception?
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:57 PM on June 22, 2008


When mentioned in the article that the soldier with the spiderweb elbow tattoo wasn't allowed into the Marines, my first thought was "oh well of course not, that tattoo means you've KILLED somebody." Apply palm to face.

Seems like that would look good on the resume. As a matter of fact seems like they would actively recruit felons with tear tattoos.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:59 PM on June 22, 2008


Tattoos being associated with "shady" elements of society reminds me of a rumor I've heard. This is something I've only heard as a rumor, mark you: American troops are highly involved with smuggling heroin into America. The rumor went to the degree that gang members with clean or mostly clean records were being encouraged to enlist by their gangs as they could then smuggle ridiculously large quantities of opiates back home. The only part I heard worthy of confirmation was the report that because of this, the armed forces felt forced to begin a new practice of searching troops' baggage on flights home, an apparently new regulation in the past few years that I attempted to confirm but couldn't find anything about, not that it's the sort of thing I think I'd find on the internet. Anyone else heard anything about this?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:06 PM on June 22, 2008


Tattoos being associated with "shady" elements of society reminds me of a rumor I've heard. This is something I've only heard as a rumor, mark you: American troops are highly involved with smuggling heroin into America. The rumor went to the degree that gang members with clean or mostly clean records were being encouraged to enlist by their gangs as they could then smuggle ridiculously large quantities of opiates back home. The only part I heard worthy of confirmation was the report that because of this, the armed forces felt forced to begin a new practice of searching troops' baggage on flights home, an apparently new regulation in the past few years that I attempted to confirm but couldn't find anything about, not that it's the sort of thing I think I'd find on the internet. Anyone else heard anything about this?

The CIA must have cracked down on them. Don't want anyone cutting in on their ancillary revenue stream.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:20 PM on June 22, 2008


“so I have it chopped off with a bone sticking out, because I like that gory stuff. And I had the word ‘fist’ tattooed on the knuckles, and made the fist blue, so it looks like it’s rotting.”

Now, I'm pretty sure this is from one of the Beavis and Butthead episodes.
posted by c13 at 11:00 PM on June 22, 2008


the article specifically says that marines who already have sleeves will be grandfathered in.

Ah - I missed that in the second article. I was reacting to this, from the first article ericb linked to:

Aiming to clear up the confusion and instill a positive image for Marines, sergeants major called last year for banning tattoo sleeves and kicking out any Marines who have them. So far, that policy has not been put into place.
posted by rtha at 11:13 PM on June 22, 2008


This guy looked pretty badass until I squinted and realized that wasn't Latin...it was a Counting Crows lyric written backwards across his collarbones.
posted by availablelight at 7:14 AM on June 23, 2008


AGH--actually, it's "Hurt" (NIN), not Counting Crows. Mercy delete? Slinking off for coffee now.
posted by availablelight at 7:16 AM on June 23, 2008


Seems like that would look good on the resume. As a matter of fact seems like they would actively recruit felons with tear tattoos.

Mr. Zero: A matter of fact? What do you know about recruitment into the military? DoD recruiters are under specific orders not to enlist rapists, murderers and gangbangers, if they can help it. It's not a fucking assassin's guild.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 7:41 AM on June 23, 2008


It's not a fucking assassin's guild.

Assassin's guilds have higher standards.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:21 AM on June 23, 2008


Mr. Zero: A matter of fact? What do you know about recruitment into the military? DoD recruiters are under specific orders not to enlist rapists, murderers and gangbangers, if they can help it. It's not a fucking assassin's guild.

Oh my. I read it as papists.
posted by notreally at 8:23 AM on June 23, 2008


I got a caduceus on my left shoulder shortly after enlisting as a medic in the navy during the first Gulf War. I never see it because it's on my back, and though I was stationed with the Marines for two years I didn't get any other Gung-Ho tattoos.

I'm glad I have it, proud of what I did, but there's something poingant to me in it's being behind me and out of my sight anymore.
posted by Pecinpah at 8:32 AM on June 23, 2008


My cousin is a marine who has been thru two tours in Iraq. His job was to drive around in armored vehicles looking for IEDs so that they could be destroyed. Everytime he has missed one and driven past one that has detonated outside his APC he has gotten a tat of a bomb with angel wings inked on his forearm. He had 8 when I saw him last.
posted by daHIFI at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2008


Assassin's guilds have higher standards.

Real nice.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 9:25 AM on June 23, 2008


This is something I've only heard as a rumor, mark you: American troops are highly involved with smuggling heroin into America.

Yeah, I saw Lethal Weapon too.
posted by inigo2 at 9:29 AM on June 23, 2008


Real nice.

Hey, don't blame me. Have you seen the admission requirements for the more respectable assassin's guilds? Those guys are stringent. You can't even begin initial training unless you're fluent in at least two European languages.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:20 AM on June 23, 2008


The first thing it reminded me of were those photographs of Russian prison tattoos -- less codified, but still somewhat similar. Interesting stuff.
Were you making a general reference, or referring to something specific on MeFi recently? Because, if so, that sounds cool, and I'd love a reference.
posted by scrump at 10:35 AM on June 23, 2008


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