MONTGOMERY, Alabama–Robert Black enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17, and left for boot camp in June 2001, just three months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He says his ink is a reflection of military culture and friends who he lost in battle.
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Name: Robert Black
Military service: I served for 11 years in the airborne infantry, did two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and briefly worked in human resources after a parachuting accident. I was honorably discharged in October 2013 as a staff sergeant.
How many tattoos do you have? How many are related to your military service? Nine tattoos, the majority relates to military service.
When did you get your first military tattoo? Got two tattooed within a couple of days of each other in 2012.
Describe each military-inspired tattoo and what they mean to you. On my right arm, I have the soldier’s memorial tattooed. When you have a comrade that dies, a lot of guys get it to memorialize them. It is a permanent memorial. The tattoo is in memory of a few people I lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldier’s boots are pointed down to represent the position of a paratrooper’s feet when landing after parachuting.
The 82nd Airborne Division patch is tattooed above the soldier’s memorial to represent the first unit I served in. It is a reminder of the discipline I received there. It is not like any other in the Army or other military branch.
I have the Combat Infantry badge in the center of my upper back. This badge is for infantrymen who actually served in combat. I got bars tattooed inside it because I am out of the Army, and I can’t do it anymore. I feel like I am caged out.
On my right shoulder, I have the name Bohica Black tattooed, which is the name of the large woman with a green penis I have tattooed on my left thigh. [Note: Bohica Black is the nickname for Bravo Company 2504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, according to Robert Black. The phrase “Bohica” is also used as military slang. Black’s tattoo containing this phrase is too graphic to be included in the photo gallery.]
I also have quotes on each of my arms that relate to my military service.
Why did you want a permanent memorial for the friends you lost? It is always with me. Mainly, because they were my friends, and to lose them at such a young age – 19 and 21 years old – is difficult. They start as strangers, but when they watch your back every day, they become more than friends. You shed blood, sweat and tears with each other.
Why did you get the tattoo of the woman? You have to have humor in the military. If you don’t, it will wear on you, and it will wear on your family when you come home.
What do you think of when you look at your tattoos now? They are there, and they are a part of me now. I got them in places where they can be seen by others. They are good conversation starters. People want to know about them.
How much are tattoos a part of the culture in the military? I think only two people in my entire platoon didn’t have tattoos, and they were older. The military keeps changing the rules on tattoos, but I don’t think they should be an issue. The Army has bigger issues.
Do you plan to get other military-inspired tattoos now that you are out of the Army? I am sure I will. There were others I wanted to get, but I got the ones that reflected the most of my military career.
Bama Inked is AL.com‘s weekly look at tattoo culture across the state of Alabama. Want to share your tattoo story with us? For consideration to be featured in a future Bama Inked story, click here to fill out this form. You can also join our Bama Inked Facebook group here, where we talk tats all week long.