Army plays ‘Taps’ for soldier tattoos By Neil W. McCabe

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After years of looking the other way, the Army is playing hardball with the tattoo.
New tattoos are forbidden and commanders are now collecting photographs of Soldier tattoos
grandfathered in.
Not so long ago, it was illegal in Massachusetts to get a tattoo.
One reason for the law, was that it worked as a guardrail for lower income individuals, who might be tempted to do something that might hurt their economic progress out of poverty.
This is no longer a concern in Massachusetts, where the state’s leadership prefers to keep the poor dependent, rather than striving.
If tattoos keep poor kids from competing with kids from established families, all the better. “Go ahead! You have the freedom to put that snake on your neck.” Just don’t expect to get a job at a bank.
In the Army, there was never as strong a tattoo culture as in the nautical services, the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. There is something about an anchor that lends itself to ink on the forearm.
But, during the dual liberations of Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers found tattoos and it became quite the match. Part of it was finding a way to deal with the pain of separation while deployed. Part of it was the using the tattoo to commemorate the deployment itself. Frankly, I came very close to inking my own shoulders in this way by matching with my own shoulder patches.
On the left, the unit you are in, I wanted the patch of the “Statue of Liberty” patch of the 77th Sustainment Brigade, the legacy of the 77th Division and on the right, the unit you deployed to a combat area with, the “Red Bull” patch of the 34th Division. Luckily, I did not act on this impulse before I soured on the “Red Bulls.” Otherwise, the patch of that loathsome group would be permanently on my shoulder like an ex-wife.
One of the most poignant tattoos I saw in Iraq was set of seven stars, usually on the calf. This tattoo was worn by members of the Texas National Guard to memorialize the seven Texas Air National Guardsmen killed in the Sept. 18, 2008 crash of their CH-47 Chinook in the Iraq as they flew through the black-on-black of night sky over an unlit desert.
The “Texas Seven” tattoo is closely related to the unspoken, dirty secret about tattoos in combat.
The truth is many of the Joes were really addressing their own anxiety that if something happened to them, their bodies would be properly identified, including the limps that in a kinetic event become mixed up and strewn.
That was then and this is now. Although, our troops are still in the field against America’s enemies in Afghanistan, the Army has thrown the switch and it is now all about the garrison.
The garrisoned Army is about drill and ceremony, properly filed paperwork and dress uniforms.
In the last three years, thousands of combat-tested senior officers and noncommissioned officers have left the service. Taking their place are the senior officers and noncommissioned officers, who are the masters of the PowerPoint slide, the well-whispered rumor and the barracks politics that keep everybody busy.
These new leaders are united in their contempt for “trigger-pullers.”
To these new leaders, the tattoo is a vestige of the Army-at-war, which is no longer en vogue—and besides, it distracts from the toy soldier formations and parades that now rule the day.
If I could dial back my negativity, I should say, garrison systems and culture are organic to the Army and they were neglected in the last 12 years.
As for tattoos, the truth is I am not really a fan and I do not have any myself.
But, when the next wartime comes, my guess is as the garrison leaders give way to combat leaders, the Army will loosen up its tattoo ban, too. Or, at least one hopes.

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