We appreciate those who serve in the armed forces and go to war to protect the country, but it can be difficult to fully grasp the extent of such an experience. We hear them tell their stories and we see images and videos from abroad, but it's nearly impossible to really understand the experience for those who haven't lived it directly.

In an attempt to further connect returned veterans with their community and highlight the highs and lows of their military struggle, a new initiative has spawned in an unlikely place – a tattoo shop.

War Ink
The exhibit in question began this past Tuesday, Nov. 11. Started by Jason Deitch and Chris Brown – the former a sociologist and military veteran, and the latter a production executive with a California library – the event is called War Ink, and will showcase the combat tattoos of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Deitch and Brown petitioned former soldiers as well as tattoo artists via social media to display their military-inspired tattoos, which will be filmed and photographed so that the duo can travel their exhibit around to various libraries in California, Mercury News reported.

Why combat tattoos?
It may seem like tattooing and the military are a strange match, but there's actually a closer relationship there than many may realize. Veterans have been turning to tattoos to honor fallen comrades, commemorate important events or show solidarity among fellow platoon members for generations. The rise in popularity of tattooing has merely expanded the practice.

"The reason I did the tattoos – I wanted to honor my friends who didn't come back. But also because, well, we all carry our stories. This is a way of telling the story without having to say anything," Jonathan Snyder, veteran of the war in Afghanistan, told Mercury News.

Deitch even went as far as to relate tattooing to a form of language, universal among all people who have a story to tell that words may not be able to convey.

What about tattoo regret?
The idea of memorializing one's time in combat, or a connection to a lost friend and team member, may seem like an idea born out of solemnity and respect. But there are those who may wonder about what the veterans will think years or decades down the road. After all, for many men and women of the armed forces, their time fighting represents some of the most traumatic and intense months of their lives – surely a recipe for tattoo regret if ever there was one.

But many veterans don't feel the same. For them, it provides a means to express and process the feelings that they've brought back from their time abroad in a way that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do. Unfortunately, the high rate of veterans who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and similar mental health issues – around one-third of returning soldiers suffer from some form of ailment, according to Treatment Solutions – indicates that the need for coping strategies isn't being met. Tattoo artists hope that body art can provide an outlet where there may not have been one previously.

One veteran told USA Today that she views her tattoos as an essential part of who she is, or a roadmap of her journey.

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