United States military service members and their tattoos: a descriptive study

Mil Med. 2013 Aug;178(8):921-5. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-13-00131.


To explore the characteristics of military service tattoos a descriptive study was conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to collect information from a convenience sample. An investigator-developed questionnaire provided the data for this study. Over the ensuing 12 month-period the researchers collected 126 questionnaires. Typical respondents were enlisted men with at least one deployment to an area of combat operations. Among the respondents, 57% acquired their tattoos before their deployment. One-quarter of the respondents reported only one tattoo, leaving the majority with multiple tattoos. Men received their first tattoo at an earlier age than women. The most common tattoo listed a person's name. Respondents did not regret their tattoos and rarely acquired the body art under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Little evidence was found to support a connection between tattoos and deployment. Few regretted their decisions and most all approached the tattoo experience free of any mind-altering substance. All this seems to suggest that military tattoos are a well-accepted means of self-expression.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel* / psychology
  • Military Personnel* / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tattooing* / psychology
  • Tattooing* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Young Adult