Perhaps most people who choose to get inked fail to feel the pain beyond the tip of the needle.
However, for the Soldiers at Combat Outpost Black Hawk, currently fighting in Wardak province, Afghanistan, their ink, the pain, and memories of each time in the chair run deep. They have routinely subjected themselves to countless hours under the gun and under the needle, simultaneously transferring memories while they grow from boys to men, one day and one line at a time.
The Soldiers with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Combat Outpost Black Hawk, proudly display their tattoos which represent a sense of patriotism, their family or serve as a reminder of a fallen Brother-in-arms.
For Spc. Christopher Zaspel, a mechanic with Co. B, the tattoo he has on his upper left arm is a patriotic tribute.
"My mother wanted me to get the 10th Mountain Division patch on my arm," Zaspel said. "But, I wanted to get something a little more patriotic. The way I see it since I'm in the Army, I want to protect our country and to me our country is beautiful."
When Zaspel was on leave during his last deployment, he had a tattoo artist ink a piece of art he calls, America the Beautiful. The six-inch long piece of work on his left shoulder consists of a blonde haired woman with the American flag draped around her.
"I plan on getting more tattoos that represent my heritage which include Irish and German flags on my bicep and my family's crest on my forearm," Zaspel said.
His other artwork includes a four-leaf clover inside a horseshoe on his chest and the Batman logo on his back.
"I want to keep my luck close to my heart," Zaspel added. "Batman proves you do not need powers to be great."
Spc. Andrew Dozier, a military police officer with 118th Military Police Company, choose an eagle swooping from the sky clutching laurel branches in its talons with the words This Flag Will Always Fly underneath for his patriotic spirit.
"It's hard to bring out the life in animals," Dozier added pulling up the sleeve of his black t-shirt.
Dozier mapped out the rest of his upper right arm with the kings of the wild. A lion with blue eyes and blood stained muzzle representing the king of the jungle sits on his upper arm next to the eagle. An alligator, embodying the king of the swamp and a great white shark, symbolizing the king of the sea, will finish out Dozier's collection.
"I was originally going to get some color on the eagle, but the only thing I put color on was the eyes and mouth of the lion," Dozier said. "If you throw color into the area that I've got, it takes away from what I've already got."
Some of the Soldiers' artwork also serves as a reminder of their family back home while others honor service members they have spent time with during combat.
"The two wolves on my left shoulder represent my kids with always and forever underneath," said Spc. Brian Cook, a fuel operator with B Company. "I also have Chinese symbols on my back that mean 'loving family' with my kids' names underneath."
Cook has ideas for what he wants to add to his collection of artwork and has designed a few pieces for himself.
"I'm drawing one up now," said the Boise, Idaho native. "It's going to be two dog tags with my kids' names on the tags wrapping around my arm. There are a few things I want to perfect before I get it tattooed."
Cook dusted himself off as he got out from underneath a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle and pulled up the sleeve of his tan t-shirt to reveal a cross with a skull in the center consumed by flames.
"This one is for the group from Iraq," Cook said. "My whole platoon got this one."
Leaning against the brick wall wearing shorts and a tan t-shirt, Pfc. Ronnie Butler, an infantryman with Company B, conspicuously displays his tattoos.
"I'm a tattoo guy, that's for sure. I plan on being completely covered everywhere except for my face and head, because my mom would kill me," Butler said with a laugh.
On the inside of his left forearm outlined in black with shades of a gray sits a cross with the words Kings of over the top of and Royalty on the bottom. Wings grace the sides of the piece, drawing the viewer's eyes to the numbers, 503 which represent East County where Butler grew up, and letters, LOCS which stands for locals, that form the inside of the cross.
"That's one me and my brother were playing around with when we were younger and we came up with this clique idea," Butler said. "I love my brother to death. He's more like a best friend than a brother. I got it on my skin to remember that time in my life."
On July 9, Butler lost a close friend who was working with the counter improvised explosive device team, Spc. Joshua Farris. So when Butler was home on leave, he went to the tattoo shop run by his uncle in San Diego, Calif. "I wanted to make it dramatic," Butler said.
Etched into the back of his left arm, Butler has his platoon's logo, a Punisher skull with two letter Fs for the platoon motto, Fightin' First. Inside the eyes are the numbers 87 and 09, for the years that Farris was born and died, with blood stained tears coming from the eyes symbolizing his lost friend.
"This one is my favorite piece. It has the most meaning to it," the San Diego, Calif. native said. "If Farris were here and he could see it, he would be very proud of it."
The Latin phrase, Sir Vis Pacem Para Bellum, on Butler's right wrist was tattooed by Spc. Matthew Ogden, a Soldier that was lost on June 1st and a tattoo artist who worked in a tattoo shop as a side job back in the states.
"It translates to, if you want peace, prepare for war," Butler said.
Pulling up the bottom of his sleeve, Butler revealed the image of a Soldier behind a machine gun ready to engage any targets. Just below the Soldier is a robot pulling his heart out from his chest and staring at it. He's got his heart pulled out of his chest.
"The robot is from one of my favorite bands, Silver Steam, What's broken needs to be fixed is the name of the album. For a while I was planning to get married, but she cheated on me and I had to step back and ask myself, 'What am I doing with my life?'," said the 20-year-old. "This arm is going to be a sleeve with pretty much everything I have seen, done and where I have been and how I felt."
Taking his watch off, Butler exposes two more tattoos that were done by Ogden, the words devotion and desire.
"Devotion and desire are two really big things in my life," Butler said. "I aspire to be a custom vehicle mechanic at some point in my life. You have to devote yourself to what you want to do and make it happen."
Sgt. Kemosi Evans, an infantryman and Company B radio telephone operator, turned his skin into a canvas. From Asian dragons to koi fish to Zodiac symbols, Evans' body tells a story about what is important to him.
A black dragon stretches from his right elbow, up his arm and onto his chest. "In Asian mythology, a dragon and koi fish represent protection," Evans said. "I've been the protector of my family for my whole life."
Evans rolled up the sleeve of his ACU top and revealed the blue flames that stretch from his wrist to the middle of his forearm.
"One of my old Soldiers had drawn this up for me, he asked me what color I wanted it and I told him blue," said the Long Beach, Fl. native. "The reasons why I choose a blue flame are, a blue flame is the purest flame and the color to me represents my deployments."
Evans plans on adding memorial tattoos for his fallen brothers in the spaces between the blue flames on his forearm and the dragon's tail.
"For Spc. Joshua Farris, I'm going to get the punisher skull logo tattooed, and Spc. Justin Pellerin's platoon logo is going to be added," Evans said. "I'm going to add it for a few of the other guys that were hurt or killed in that platoon. Everything is going to tie-in together."
"I did a tattoo for Spc. Pellerin," Evans, who has been tattooing for four years, said. "We never got to finish it."
"I like to make the tattoos a lot more meaningful versus anything else," Evans said.
Zaspel, who had a good friend die during his last deployment, will get a tattoo in remembrance of his fallen brother.
"My buddy died last deployment, Cpl. Jeremiah Scott Cole," Zaspel said solemnly. "I'm going to get a tattoo that represents him in remembrance of him. So I can always have him as a reminder."
"A tattoo has to represent something that has meaning and something that represents you," Zaspel said.
This work, Black Hawk Soldiers represent with body art, by SGT Matthew Thompson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.