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More than skin deep

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kathryn Reaves
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

From the beginning, humanity has been intrigued with sharing experiences and telling stories – whether painting on stone walls with ink made from berries and flowers or permanently altering their bodies to ensure the story outlasts their ability to articulate it.

For thousands of years, warriors have stained their skin through tattooing, carrying with them tokens of protection, symbols of their service and reminders of those they left behind to fulfill their duty.

The tattoos these Team Shaw Airmen carry are more than just skin deep.

“The tattoo that I have is a mixture between the Maltese cross and the caduceus and it’s mixed with tools of the firefighting trade.

“Its base is between fire, one part of our job, and life-saving tactics, the other aspect of our job.

“It’s a reminder of my responsibilities and commitment to the job of helping and saving people in their time of need. Putting it on my body is a way of saying, ‘This is what I do, this is what I’ve committed my life to and this is what I enjoy doing.’” – Cary Brugh, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department lieutenant

“The bicycle tattoo is a 1952 Shelby 52A and is the bike that got me started in the bicycle hobby.

“This bike is my fathers and he rode it back and forth to work while serving in the Army. If it wasn't for this bike, I'd never be in this hobby and shared the love of bicycles like this with him.

“Vintage bicycles are a big part of who I am. I've used these old bikes to build positive relationships with my children.” – Tech. Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic

“The tattoo was for some people who have been in my life a long time.

“The individuals behind two of the three initials – we have been friends since kindergarten, which was about 1997.

“The other guy, we met in high school.

“No matter where I go in the world, I will always have them with me.

“It says, ‘Through Christ, brothers are forever.’ We all believe in God, which I feel makes our bond even stronger. It shows that nothing can break us all apart, not even death.” – Staff Sgt. Trevor Griswold, F-16 Viper Demonstration Team electrical and environmental systems craftsman

“The wolf at the top of my shoulder symbolizes a guardian angel watching over me.

“The northern lights symbolize guidance, making sure I stay on the right path. Although we all make a wrong decision here and there, I can always look up and find my way back to what is right.

“The log cabin within the wilderness symbolizes home; a place of comfort and protection. A place where no one will judge you and you can be who you really are.

“The snow on the ground symbolizes forgiveness. No matter what action you mess up on, you can be forgiven – any person can be. If you walk in snow, wait a day. During a snowstorm, your tracks will be gone as if you were never there.

“Finally on the inside of my arm, which is closest to me and the most meaningful to me, is the crow within the graveyard. This symbolizes the scary part of life – death.

“What I mean by this is that whether we are rich or poor, popular or a loner, famous or average, we should all be humble due to that fact that, at the end of our days, we are just one person leaving a big world.

“Our tombstone can just be another of many within a graveyard being watched by the crows or be the most frequently visited one by many based on actions during our life.”– Staff Sgt. Bruce Thomas, 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron ground transportation support noncommissioned officer in charge

“My tattoo represents my childhood.

“Whenever I watched Star Wars, it was with my dad. We would always watch it together during the holiday season.

“They just remind me of my dad since I don’t get to see him a lot.” – Airman 1st Class Sarah McKinney, 20th Medical Support Squadron records technician


“This group of tattoos symbolizes our marriage. The ship and anchor connect us.

“I have an octopus because they are my favorite animal and happen to be monogamous.

“The megalodon shark represents our honeymoon and how we watched Shark Week when we were not out sight-seeing.

“Finally, I have a nautical compass with my wife’s initials in the southwest part of the compass, ‘SW’ in red – the only color ink I have on me to set her apart.” – Staff Sgt. Justin Warren, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs broadcast journalist.

“My tattoo is kind of a combination of multiple tattoos. Over time, it’s become a half-sleeve.

“It started with my granddaddy’s rank when he was in the Navy. He died three days before I graduated basic training, so that’s one I wanted to get to kind of memorialize him. He and I were really close and the last conversation he and I had before I shipped out was that he was proud of me no matter what and he was just proud I didn’t join the Marines.

“The rest of it has just evolved over time.

“The flag, because if you’re a service member, it should mean something to you like it does to me.

“Below that is the phrase, ‘Freedom isn’t free,’ because our freedom does not come freely. It comes at a cost. Many lives have been paid before ours. ... There are so many people who lost loved ones throughout the decades in the service and the protection of this country.

“Below that, there are a few tombstones so we remember there is a sacrifice and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

“On the backside of my arm, there’s a soldier’s memorial. That’s to remember brothers that I’ve known that have passed away in the line of duty, protecting those they love and protecting this country. Guys that went and never came home.

“That’s my arm. That’s my story.” – Staff Sgt. Joseph Churchwell, 372nd Training Squadron, Detachment 2, F-16 armament systems instructor