Death Before Dishonour

I love the story Jackie Rabbit has for this tattoo.  It starts off with a soldier calling up asking for a “Death Before Dishonour” tattoo.  Now he wanted something unique and crazy, and large enough to cover his upper arm.  The catch, he was deploying in 2 days and needed it done the next morning.  Thankfully she had an opening the next day, and this is what came out of her overnight artistry.

At least he didn’t want a sweet tatty of roses with the names & birth and death dates of all of his relatives in arabic, as well as their portraits.  It will make him look cool and hip and intellectual, it has special meaning that will reflect his pain and loss and make him a sensitive bad ass.  Oh, and it has to be on his foot and small so his parents can’t see it.

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The tattooed hurt locker

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.

Sgt. Matthew Jackson of the 1st EOD Company.

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.

On the front lines

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.

Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!

–William Tecumseh Sherman

Before I begin this post, I want to take a moment to address some criticisms that may occur in the comment section.  The following post is not meant as a political statement in any way.  Nor is it an endorsement of any armed conflict.  This is about those people who choose to do what they believe in, regardless of the thoughts of others.

I don’t think in any period of documented history that there has been a time where the entire globe was at peace.  Wars have been waged since the dawn of mankind, and will probably continue on long after everyone reading this is gone.  While the reason wars occur vary widely, there is one constant in every conflict: the soldiers.  The men and women who are either forced into service, born and raised in it, or volunteer for it, all have one thing in common.  These men and women all put their lives on the line for a greater cause.  Granted we have the luxury of looking back on the past and are able to place our own judgement on the validity of the causes, but in the moment, these people took a stand when ordered.

I realize that ModBlog has a global audience, but for the time being I’m going to be focusing on the US soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan.  These brave soldiers have chosen to put their lives on the line for their country.  Whether you believe that the war is justified, or should be stopped entirely, for the time being, these people are out there facing death each day.  I know there are a lot of members (former and active) of the armed forces that read ModBlog, and hopefully some will be willing to share their stories with us.  The reason I say this is because TIME Magazine recently did a photo essay on a number of troops stationed in Afghanistan.  The one thing these men have in common is their love of tattoos.  I hesitate to claim they love other mods, simply because I’m positive military regulations prevent them from possessing certain modifications such as piercings, and there’s no way to ascertain their personal feelings regarding modifications.  That said, these men are on the front lines every day, and the shadow of death is constantly overhead.  Here’s how some of them cope with their feelings about the situation they’re in.


Sergeant Paul Williams, 20

During a recent embed with Marines in Marjah, Afghanistan, photographer Mauricio Lima asked the men to share the stories behind their tattoos. Williams’ back features two bulldogs, animals frequently used to represent “Devil Dogs,” a nickname commonly applied to the Marines. The words on his shoulders are from the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms.”

Like I said earlier, no matter your personal feelings towards the current conflict in Afghanistan, there are men and women out there choosing to put their lives at risk for what they believe in, and for their friends and family back home.  So take a moment to think about these soldiers, the people, who are standing up and living their lives how they want to.  The way I see it, these soldiers are not only modifying their bodies to be who they want to be, but they’ve taken things a step further than a lot of other people who modify themselves; they have completely transformed their bodies and minds to become their own ideal.  The way I see it, even if you don’t agree with the war, these soldiers are brave in not only standing up for what they believe in, but also for taking extreme steps to modify their minds and bodies.

Full Coverage: Links From All Over (Sept. 11, 2008)

[] If the History Channel has taught me anything (aside from providing a God’s-eye view of everything that ever happened to Hitler), it’s that the military has a proud tradition of commemorative tattoos, with each branch rather attached to its own unique iconography. In March 2007, however, the Marine Corps cracked down on and banned full-sleeve tattoos for Marine recruiters or security guards, though those with work completed before a certain date were grandfathered in. Now, a new administrative decision has extended the ban even to those who were granted an allowance:

[The decision defines] sleeve tattoos as a large tattoo or collection of smaller tattoos that covers or almost covers a person’s arm or leg. This also includes half and quarter sleeves if they are visible in green-on-green, physical training gear. […]

“Sleeve tattoos degrade our professional Marine image,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron McMullen, canvassing recruiter, Recruiting Substation Clarksville, Ind., Recruiting Station Louisville, Ky. “We keep our uniforms pressed, our brass shiny and our shoes polished. Sleeve tattoos don’t fit with that image.”

Marines with tattoo sleeves who are already on recruiting will be allowed to finish their tours however, recruiters wishing to submit a career-recruiter package “may not be favorably viewed” but will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The decision will ultimately rest with the deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.

Photo credit:

It’s an unfortunate decision; one would hope their contributions would be highly valued enough that a tattoo sleeve wouldn’t have to inhibit Marines’ official interaction with the public. On the other hand, decorum seems vital to the USMC, and if they won’t truck with a moo-stache, maybe this shouldn’t be a complete surprise.

[] ESPN the Magazine recently put out a call for readers to send in photos of their College football-related tattoos, and at least 18 did! Nothing particularly striking, though I have to say, sports tattoos is one area in which BME is definitely lacking. I’m putting you on notice, sports fans! Start sending in photos of your tattoos. We know you’re out there.

[] Lindsay Lohan totes got tattoos to match Samantha Ronson’s! In more exciting news, the driver on the bus I take had his hair parted to the opposite side than usual this morning.

[] OK, this is just plain awesome. I don’t know the context (or if the title, “Religious Body Piercing in India,” is in any way accurate), but this is the video to which they link — never mind the safety pins: