U.S. Army combat engineer Jonathan Snyder came home to the Bay Area from Afghanistan in 2010 with the weight of the world on his shoulders — so he got a tattoo across them.
Jason Deitch, a sociologist and former combat medic himself, came up with the idea for War Ink with co-creator Chris Brown, senior project director at the Contra Costa County Library. The two had worked together before on veterans’ issues, but suddenly made the connection between the long history of military tattoos and the ink now ubiquitous in mainstream American culture, using this body art bond as a base to encourage conversations.
And with a generation of veterans returning home across the nation and thousands still at war, “we wanted to present an authentic cultural program that involves veterans completely, ignites dialogue and allows civilians to better understand veteran culture,” Deitch said. “It doesn’t get any more authentic than the stories they express on their own skin.”
Backed by a number of grants and support of libraries throughout California, and services donated by world-class Web production, photography and video teams — including StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative — Deitch and Brown posted requests for participants on social media, at veterans centers and even with tattoo artists. They ended up with two dozen men and women willing to bare biceps and souls during four days of filming at the Concord Vet Center.
“Civilians often want to do something for veterans but don’t know how,” Brown said. “Here they can listen and be witness to the veterans’ stories. Plus there’s a page on the site where people can link to all of our social media, post photos, make comments. Our first goal is to get everyone to hear these stories, and then go from there.”