Left: The praying hands that National Guard Stall:Sergeant Rob had tattooed on his chest in Las Vegas after as deployment to South Korea. Right: National Guard Staff Sergeant Ryan data got his tattoos in Iraq, where a roommate ran a tattoo shop out of his barrack. Each rectangular stripe on his right forearm symbolizes six months in Iraq combat. Each diagonal stripe on his left arm symbolizes three years in the service. He’s about to add a third. The symbols are taken from Mata’s dress unifOrm. Some soldiers tattoo 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 are called “meat tags.” 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 21, 2008 Ryan Williams’ job is to call in artillery fire on the enemy, and the job’s symbol is a hand clutching lightning bolts. “I wanted to make mine unique,” he says, “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.” Williams’ entire chest and both arms are covered with ink, and the tattoos are arranged to symbolize the duality of his nature. “I get pretty crazy when I drink:’ Williams says. “They call me Mr. Hyde.” On one side of his ribcage is a grim reaper figure draped in an American flag. On the other side is the Virgin Mary. Religious iconography constitutes a third category of military tattoo. Spc. Daniel Lee spends a lot of the money he makes in Iraq at a Killeen shop called Kingpin Tattoos. He’s got the tattoos he shows the world, his arms covered with images of fortune cookies and Chinese takeout boxes, a humorous celebration of his Chinese-American heritage. But Lee has private tattoos as well. Before he was called up the first time, he got an image of hands clasped in prayer tattooed on one side of his chest, and a portrait of Jesus, complete with crown of thorns, on the other. “The feeling just hit that I was going to Iraq,” Lee remembers. “And I wanted to keep my faith somewhere. Some people carry a Bible into war, but I wanted something more permanent. I like keeping my faith right on my body, where I can see it every time I take a shower. It makes me feel better
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