DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
A buzzing of needle guns and the industrial smell of ink fill the air, while crowds of people surround a stage. A man, with a face as red as his hair, sits cross-legged on a woven mat as another man taps away at his wrist with traditional tattoo equipment from the Samoan Islands.
The wrist tattoo peeking out from beneath his Airman Battle Uniform is one of the first physical traits one might notice about Senior Airman Daniel Brewer, 7th Munitions Squadron armament maintenance technician.
“I started tatting at the age of 16,” Brewer said. “My dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I shouted, ‘Tattoos!’ Ever since, I have gotten a tattoo each year. Currently, I have five total.”
Every person in his immediate family has a tattoo. His dad was one of the first to get one; a patriotic flag on his arm. When Brewer asked for the tattoo, his dad encouraged him to get one that had meaning.
Two of his tattoos, a phoenix on his arm and a sugar skull with a rose on his chest, represent two cities he calls home – Phoenix, Ariz. and Portland, Ore.
When he first started getting tattoos, each one was researched and planned while money was put aside to pay for them. However, when he got his elk tattoo, it was different—it was a spur of the moment decision driven by a love for adventure.
While stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, he went to a tattoo convention in Luxembourg. This is where he got the tattoo of a monochromed elk on his ribs and the traditional Samoan stick-and-poke on his wrist.
“The artist for the stick-and-poke would create a preliminary line, dip the blade in ink and basically cut your flesh with it,” Brewer said. “There was one big, buff dude with a Mohawk in front of me receiving a stick-and-poke; he was just crying and crying on stage as he’s getting the tattoo done. There was a guy right in front of me, waiting next in line and he bolted once he saw that guy cry. When they came to me, they asked if I was sure to continue and I told them I could hang; I’m still getting that tattoo.”
When he sat down on the mat, the gathered crowd watched him for three hours. One woman in particular looked horrified as he was getting it done. He asked the woman if she was OK as she stared back wide-eyed. He asked the tattoo artist what he would get. The artist grabbed Brewer’s arm and replied, “Whatever I feel like you need, brotha.”
“Once the elk tattoo was finished, my ribs were bleeding, the ink was running, then I had my wrist done,” Brewer pauses with a dazed look. “I was tired and worn out and I was done for the day…but it was worth it.”
Things that have meaning or value to Brewer are expressed in his tattoo choices, such as his interest in literature.
“I’ve read many books, specifically philosophy and history,” Brewer said. “I’m not big on television or social media. I don’t even have a Facebook. I love reading.”
The word “Invictus” stretches across his forearm. While some of his tattoos are a subtle expression of his interests, this more overt body art reflects the title of his favorite poem.
In the past, each Monday his shop would ask him what he did that weekend. He would reply with something along the lines of how much he read and would include a quote or two from Plato or another philosopher.
Brewer doesn’t believe there’s a deeper correlation between his love of tattoos and his philosophical leanings, though he has plans to get tattoos that do speak to the more cerebral pursuit.
While his diverse interests include philosophy and tattoos, he still thinks of himself as a normal person.
“I’ve only had my life,” Brewer pauses. “I don’t know what to compare it to. I don’t really know what’s normal, I don’t know what isn’t normal. In that instance, I’m stuck in my own cave.” Brewer said, referencing Plato’s “Allegory of a Cave,” just one of the many writings that has impacted him. “You can go out and you can look at the fire and you can see what’s causing the shadows but you can’t really understand it because you grew up in your cave. My number one thing I look at is perspective and try to go out and talk to people and get perspective on things. I always want to see how others see things because I think that’s interesting. It gives me perspective.”
Brewer believes he got lucky with the amount of traveling he has done so far in his Air Force career. In the approximate three years he has been in the Air Force, Brewer has been stationed or sent on temporary duty to nine different locations to include: Romania, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Las Vegas, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Guam and Texas. With each location he visits and each person he meets, he gains more perspective of the world, and has more opportunities for adventure, whether that means a new tattoo or something entirely new.
“I guess the idea of finding perspective means a lot of different things, and there are a ton of different ways to achieve it,” Brewer said. “The more traditional tattoo styles are still practiced in certain cultures, which interests me. To understand and gain a greater appreciation for other cultures—to learn about the different meanings and symbolisms of a [tattoo] style—I guess in a cheesy kind of way I’m able to make a connection with someone from a completely different walk of life over something we both enjoy.”
For Brewer, the road ahead to more tattoos, and more adventure is long and full of opportunity.
“I believe any opportunity you get, you just need to jump on it,” Brewer said. “You might just be surprised by the adventure you find.”