Under the Radar

5 Veteran Tattoos That Define 'War Ink'


If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then these veteran tattoos tell dramatic tales of the pain and perseverance that inspired them.

‘War Ink’ is a stunning online exhibit that uses tattoo art to spark conversations with Iraq and Afghan war veterans about their time in combat and the fallen comrades they lost along the way.

The San Francisco Bay Area’s Contra Costa County Library launched the project in conjunction with StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative, which includes photographer Johann Wolf and filmmaker Rebecca Murga.


“We all saw WAR INK as a powerful way to engage civilians and inspire them to learn more about veterans and their experiences,” says Murga, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We spent 4 days and interviewed 24 veterans, all with amazing stories.”

California has the largest population of veterans of any state in the nation — nearly 2 million. About 540,000 of them are veterans of the Gulf, Iraq and Afghan wars.

1. Because dogs are not just “MAN’s Best Friend.”

(Heather Hayes, Air Force, Petaluma, Photography By Johann Wolf)

Hayes was an Air Force sergeant who served with the 554th, 219th, and 819th Red Horse Squadrons. She was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. "I don’t regret any tattoos because they all represent that moment in my life,” she says. “It's like a map of my journey."

2. Because “Rangers lead the way!”

(William Glazier, Army Ranger, Gilroy, Photography By Johann Wolf)

Glazier served as a combat medic with Charlie Company, 1st  Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, with which he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and served with distinction. He is now an emergency medical technician at University of San Francisco.

3. Because warriors have feelings too.

(Mike Ergo, Marines, Walnut Creek / Photography By Johann Wolf)

Ergo served with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and saw two tours of Iraq. He is photographed here holding his new baby girl Adeline. He is now a social worker and readjustment counselor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

4. Because ‘Hello Kitty’ can be badass

(Victoria Lord, Navy, San Diego / Photography By Johann Wolf)

Lord served on the medical team of the  nuclear aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman as deck seaman striking toward corpsman. She then served on board the USS Frank Cable submarine tender as a corpsman/surgical technologist. While not at sea, she cared for incoming wounded service members and their families at the naval medical centers in Portsmouth, Virginia and San Diego, California. After serving with distinction for nine years, Victoria is now pursuing her undergraduate degree.

5. Because an MK II “pineapple” fragmentation grenade with angel wings, that’s why.

(Jeff Slater, Army, Los Angeles / Photography By Johann Wolf)

Slater was an armourer/small weapons expert assigned to the 18th Combat Sustainment Battalion in Germany, where he was chosen to command Security Detail, providing close physical protection for unit leadership. He also volunteered for route-clearance operations, an extremely dangerous duty that requires purposely causing IED detonations. After serving with distinction, Jeff returned to the U.S. to pursue a degree in business administration in Los Angeles.

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