MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
People get tattoos for many different reasons. For some, it is about style and design, while others tell a story through their ink. One’s ink can carry meaning, a story, showing individuality. This is why the same image of a tattoo can carry a different meaning to anyone who sees it.
For Airman 1st Class D’Andre Daniels, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, his tattoos are a reminder of where he used to be, where he never wants to be again and where he is going.
According to Daniels, his tattoos symbolize the challenges he’s faced and how he uses grit to keep pushing forward.
“For years I dealt with self-doubt, never feeling good enough,” expressed Daniels. “I was always compared to my brother. He was an artist, the creative one in the family, and I lived in his shadow. My sisters were the book nerds in the family, always getting straight As. I was the middle child, and it seemed as though nobody ever talked about me.”
Daniels struggled with his own self-worth and love because of the shadows cast over him.
“I was always overweight growing up,” explained Daniels. “I remember people coming up to me saying his brother was so attractive, leaving me feeling as though I wasn’t. It wasn’t until I joined the military when I decided to make a drastic change to my life.”
For a year and a half, Daniels barely ate, trying his best to put himself in a constant caloric deficit to shed weight.
After achieving his weight goals, Daniels found another form of self-identity: body ink.
He developed an interest in tattoos while stationed in Misawa and continues his tattoo sessions to finish the piece on his arm. It represents two different times in his life.
He explained how the smoke on his forearm represents a dark past, his struggle with self-identity and confidence. Daniels said the meaning behind the smoke closely relates to a phoenix bird rising from the ashes, allowing himself to let his past burn out behind him.
While that past seemed as if it would never let loose its grip on his life, he finally found solace in the Air Force after countless military family moves held him back in life and school.
“As a phoenix rises out of the smoke, I felt a change in my life as well,” said Daniels.
It was losing weight and getting tattoos that helped him to boost his self-esteem. He went through many hardships and tribulations learning, growing and gaining self-worth and confidence.
Daniels expressed how the tree on his upper arm symbolizes the elegance and delicacy of life. In Japanese culture, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and beauty of life. It is a constant reminder: life is overwhelmingly beautiful yet tragically short.
“We are such a small part of history, but what we can do with our time here is astronomical,” explained Daniels. “The same goes for a cherry blossom tree; out of 52 weeks, it’s only alive for about three. For something that lives for such a short amount of time, it still captures people’s attention with its beauty. It’s a sight to see.”
He sat in awe of just how much he’s overcome. According to Daniels, his body is like a journal, and his tattoos are his stories, a symbolic imprint of his trials and aspirations engraved in his skin.
“Speaking to different individuals about their tattoos and hearing the story behind why they got them, allows me to see deeper than the surface,” said Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, the 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs media operations NCO in charge. “It can be a life story, a memory or just art, but all tattoos give me an understanding of who the person is and what they’ve endured.”
Both Chase and Daniels believe tattoos pave a road for new conversation, a better understanding of individuals and are a way of bringing people together.
Daniels expressed his tattoos weren’t just a reminder of his struggles, but a way to remember his goals as well.
“My piece says I’m still fighting,” said Daniels. “I’m still trying to better myself every day and I have not given up in life. I plan to make something out of the one life I’ve been given. There was a lot of darkness in my past, but if I continue to play my cards right, it will turn into something absolutely beautiful.”