Tattoos can have many different meanings to the wearer. Sometimes those meanings can even change over time. For example a tattoo that was done with a friend present may one day become a memorial tattoo if the friend passes away. Tattoos can mark significant events in a person’s life, the birth of a child, or journey taken. They can be about something the wearer is passionate about, or has played a major role in that person’s life.
Whatever the reason a person has for getting a tattoo, most of the time there is a story to be told. A while back I talked about modified members of the armed services. Today I found a story about one serviceman that I thought would be nice to share.
Sergeant Matthew Jackson, a bomb disposal expert from the 1st EOD Company, likes to quote Charles Manson in relation to his job – “total paranoia is total awareness.” It helps to keep his mind focused when he and his explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) team are working on one of the countless IEDs they have come across during their deployment in southern Afghanistan.
Jackson, on first meeting, looks just a tad eccentric. An English major at college, he is a big Hemingway fan. He wears thick black-rimmed glasses, and along the length of his left arm are a series of tattoos of the molecular structures of different types of explosives. Some call it his crib sheet, but he regards it as a portrait gallery of close friends, whom he refers to fondly as he lists their explosive properties and relative levels of oxygen content. In the center of his forearm is TNT – “the base of all explosives,” by his wrist are blasting cap explosives, nitroglycerin is further up his arm, but his personal favorite, he says with the enthusiasm of a professional collector, is RDX – the main component of C4 – “it’s just neat, it’s sensitive, it’s powerful…”
While Sergeant Jackson goes on to describe how the life of an EOD tech isn’t anything like it is in the film “The Hurt Locker”, he still is responsible daily for the lives of his company, and everyone else serving in Afghanistan. So while the sergeant’s tattoos are jokingly called a “crib sheet”, those chemical compounds are responsible every day for injuries and possibly death for any number of troops or civilians.
Sergeant Jackson’s arms tell a story. The story of a man who puts his life on the line every day to make sure people get home safely. I know that there are ModBlog readers who have served, and I can think of a specific IAM member that ended up coming home after being wounded by an IED. The stories that Matthew has are his own to share. So while we can see part of the story on the surface, it is what is underneath that carries the full tale.
This story is just like everyone else’s. Not everyone with a tattoo has a story that is tied to life or death, but we all have a story to tell. The ink is just the surface, the outer shell of the person inside. The tattoos are the story from inside being reflected on the outside. They are as much a part of ourselves as the stories that make up our life are.