In the 1700s, French soldiers returned from the South Pacific sporting brand-new tattoos. This practice continued until 1861 when Maurice Berchon, a French naval surgeon, published a study on the potential medical complications of tattooing. As a result, French officials banned military tattoos. But soldiers can now rejoice, because tattooing is now safer than ever, and members of the military can sport their new tattoos with pride.
Tattoo Regulations In The Military
Once limited to the parts of the body covered by long sleeved shirts and pants, the army now allows tattoos on the backs of the hands and on the back side of the neck. The primary requirement is that they are not “extremist, indecent, or racist”, per Army Regulation 670-1.
There’s only one reason the United States Army relaxed its restriction on tattoos. They realized that they were turning highly qualified individuals away over their skin art. One caveat is that the military still reserves the right to determine what is in good taste, so it might be a good idea to run it by your commanding officer before actually having needle put to skin. There also remains a limit on how many tattoos can cover any area. There are no sleeves or Japanese suits for soldiers, at least for right now.
Military Tattoo Art
Military tattoos show love for your country, and pride in your unit. There's always been ribbing between the branches regarding who is better, stronger, and smarter. Military tattoo designs can proudly display your branch of service and unit.
Military designs represent and, later in life, commemorate a meaningful and rewarding part of life. Some would say that they glorify the military and that’s probably true. Obviously, the people likely to get this type of tattoo are those who are happy and proud to be part of the military.
A common theme for army tattoos is two rifles or swords lying across each other, forming a low-profile X. You can also choose to have medals, unit patches, or awards permanently inked as a testament to your loyalty, your pride, and your sacrifices.
US Army Tattoos
Limiting our observations to US army tattoos, military tattoo designs commonly represent a branch of the military:
- USN (U.S. Navy), Marines, Coast Guard: Traditionally, sailors chose tattoos with anchors incorporated into them, although Eagles and women are also popular choices for these men who spend so many months at sea, away from their loved ones.
- USAF (U.S. Air Force): obviously, airplanes are a common choice of tattoo. Another USAF image is the American eagle – a natural choice given that the eagle represents flight and is also the symbol of the United States. Pin-ups are popular as well.
- A particular military operation: Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam for example.
- Marines: As for the US Marines, a bulldog is a common component of their tattoo art. The bulldog is the mascot of the marine corps because of a recruiting post back in WWI where they were called devil dogs or teufelhunde.
Another common marine corps tattoo design is an eagle combined with globe and anchor. This has been the symbol for the marine corps for hundreds of years.
The marines motto "Semper Fidelis" (Latin for "Always faithful") is also popular in tattoo designs.
The dog tag is a steady symbol of the military. Tattoos of dog tags, called meat tags, can be designed around any other pattern that appeals to you. They can be blended with the folded flag, a memorial of someone that was lost in combat.
The chain they ride on can be folded into a heart, or adorned with barbed wire. Wrap them around a cross or praying hands to show your close connection with God, or for an extra angel watching over you in the field. Dog tag tattoos are simple and yet powerful reminders of what soldiers are willing to sacrifice, and that they are willing to make that sacrifice with pride.
Memorial tattoos can show dates of service, or can mark the passing of a friend that was cared for. A simple name displayed with a cross or heart shows that the person was loved and lost. Missions, moments, people, and even ideas can be memorialized through tattoos. That “All Gave Some, Some Gave All” is a fact that no one will dispute.
Memorial tattoos allow you to remember the sacrifices that are made, and to help ensure that anyone seeing your tattoo also remembers. Memorial tattoos don’t have to be about a specific event or person. They can be constant reminders of the sacrifices that are made every day by soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines alike.
Skull & Grim Reaper Tattoos
Skull tattoos are also becoming increasingly popular among servicemen, especially with the constant fighting and wars that are currently being waged. A soldier serving overseas in hot spots throughout the Middle East knows that each morning when he waked is a blessing, and that it could be the last sunrise he will see.
This fact of life makes skulls and the grim reaper popular tattoo choices. Death is a fact of life for the military, and sometimes taking a lighthearted look at it through a tattoo can help make that burden easier to carry.
Arabic Writing Tattoos
Some soldiers who fought in one of the wars in the Middle East choose to get a word in Arabic as a tattoo. The word "Infidel" is a popular choice.
Get your Arabic Translation Here...
Here's another gallery with military tattoo designs:
Celebrities With a Military Tattoo
A list of celebrities with military tattoos (do you know more? Let me know):
- Allen Iverson: basketball player with a soldier's head on his arm (better said, the remains of a soldier's head) and the word SOLDIER underneath. He feels his life has been a war and he's a soldier in it.
- Axl Rose: has a tattoo of the crest of the 32th Armor Regiment on his arm (Elvis was a member of the same regiment.). The motto is Victory or Death.