This is Caitlin from To Make Love Stay and I want to share the story of my biggest and most recent tattoo, a half sleeve on my left arm.
My husband, Rob, and I fell in love in high school. From the first time we met I knew that he would be joining the military and our falling in love didn't change that decision at all. Though I had never had any exposure to the military or ever even thought of dating a soldier, I never doubted for a second that we would make it through this part of our lives and come out stronger for it. After we were together for about a year and a half, Rob left for Basic training. He was training to become an airborne infantryman, so Basic training was particularly rigorous; we communicated only through letters for the entire 16 weeks he was there, with the exception of 2 3-minute phone calls and one 30-hour visit. It was a huge wake-up call to us about what the next 4 years would be like. Rob was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska in late 2004 after completing Basic and Airborne School. In the meantime, I was in college in Wisconsin. This meant lots of late-night phone calls and visits every few months or so. This continued until he deployed to Iraq in October 2006.
Though he didn't tell me this when he left, Rob's unit was being sent straight into the Triangle of Death, which at the time was the most perilous region of Iraq, right around the most dangerous time of the war. He would be off on missions for weeks at time; at one point I didn't speak to him for 3 straight weeks -- no phone, letters, or emails. I got a glimpse of the danger on the day after Thanksgiving, 2006, when he called to tell me that he had earned a Purple Heart for being wounded in action. The whole story was that he was targeted by a sniper, who missed him because he happened to walk by a pole at the time the shot was fired. The bullet ricocheted off the pole and into Rob's arm. I found out later that Rob had been involved in several IED explosions and in fact was known among his friends as having the unfortunate luck of being in or around most of the major incidents that occurred. He was (astoundingly) never injured all that seriously, a fact that he attributes to a small stuffed raccoon I had given him early in our relationship named Elizabeth, which he carried around with him at all times. Fast forward 13 months of almost no communication, pain, fear, a far too short 2-week midtour leave, and he finally came home. Six months after he redeployed to Alaska he came home for good, and we finally settled down together after being apart for the better part of 4 years.
The experience tested both us as a couple as well as us individually, and I have no doubt that it made us stronger, more in love, more communicative, and more understanding. I have the utmost pride in my husband and his friends for serving their country and for completing what he set out to do. About 8 months ago I decided I wanted to get a tattoo that honored the experience, how it shaped us both together and separately, and to honor the sacrifice of my husband and other veterans, past and present. Because Rob was a paratrooper, I decided to get a half-sleeve depicting a C-47 (WWII plane--my grandfather was in World War II so this part is for him) and several paratroopers jumping into a field of poppies (a flower that represents those killed in action and veterans in general). I originally thought it would be grey, black and red, but my artist, Adam Gordon in Farmington, Maine, drew up a colored picture that I liked a lot more. After 25 hours it was finally complete, and every time I look at it I swell with pride once again. I spoke to several of his Army buddies just prior to getting it and they all loved the idea, and told me that I had definitely earned the right to get it.