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Career Airman turned Conscientious Objector

A hard-fought battle for peace

Damian Niolet's tattoo story can be told from two angles.  One side concerns a commitment he faithfully kept and the other concerns a commitment he willingly broke, but both angles converged at the same point in time and find their relevance in the same goal.  It was when Damian was released from the U.S. Air Force after 11 and 1/2 years of service, but with only 6 months left on his contract, that he made a personal declaration to stand for peace for the remainder of his life.  Damian chose to permanently "mark" both moments with a tattoo.
As far back as Damian can remember, before he was even of tattooing age, he wanted a tattoo. He really wanted it to be meaningful though, so he told himself he wouldn’t get a tattoo until he made his first million dollars. Damian didn’t know how he was going to make a million dollars; he just knew he would and whatever it was that got him that first million was going somewhere on his body, whether it be a business logo, or a comic book character, or what have you.  Damian has numerous talents and is using them to bring much needed products and services to the marketplace. 
Of course, as life generally goes for most of us, nothing like that happened. Instead, Damian joined the U.S. Air Force in 2004. At his 10 year mark Damian had a “crisis of conscience” and determined he could no longer faithfully serve. He began trying several different avenues for separation, one of which was applying for release as a conscientious objector, but that request was denied. After a bit of push and pull, another option was attempted and the Air Force finally relented. Damian was released on the 24th of September 2015, but he had already gotten inked the week before in anticipation of the day.
Looking back over his Air Force career, Damian realized he probably made close to a million dollars when one adds everything up – basic pay, healthcare, housing, education, etc. He figured he should probably make good on the stipulation he made years ago and go ahead and get an Air Force related tattoo. Damian also wasn’t opposed to commemorating his time in; even though he isn't too fond of his 11 years and 6 months of service, he knows it is nonetheless a part of his life, making him who he is to some degree. However (that “however” hints at the fact this is the most significant meaning behind his tattoo), if he was going to get an Air Force related tattoo, he wanted to make sure it spoke more to his future than his past.
That’s why Damian chose to put the tattoo “behind him,” on his right shoulder blade. He also wanted it to be a conversation piece because he wants to take every opportunity to spread his beliefs as a conscientious objector or pacifist, someone who is opposed to violence and, of course, war. Therefore, Damian did something with the tattoo that is often taken as an offense when done to flags. We're sure you’ve already scrolled down and noticed what we mean. People are going to ask if Damian realizes the Air Force logo is upside-down and he's going to use that moment to tell this very story and more.  He doesn't intend to disparage military personnel, but he has no qualms about speaking against the military branches themselves, and more importantly, the culture of peripheral violence which created and perpetuates them, thus pushing people into said service.
It remains to be seen whether Damian gets punched in the face for holding such beliefs, but he says he'll use that to his advantage as well.  How exactly remains to be seen.  He says we'll have to stay tuned to his blog.  It's on Damian's blog that he revealed his tattoo via a photo and a blog post similar to this story.  The photo was intended to accompany a series begun be Devon Mitchell called, "The Veteran Vision Project."  However, since the project also serves as Devon's portfolio, the photo could not be accepted into the project.  Devon nonetheless praised the exceptional quality of the photo, which Damian did entirely on his own using his iPhone and Photoshop.  You'll find said photo below.
Damian wants to make sure some of the hidden meaning in the photo is revealed. First, the mirrored images are supposed to be in chronological order – the farther image being farthest in time. If he had a bigger bathroom, he would have had an image of himself as a young man, full of misplaced pride as he salutes himself, but he could only fit three images in. The image of Damian in uniform shows his anguish over having to serve for an entity he abhorred. That’s what was going on internally after his ten year mark. The shirtless image of Damian (with tattoo) portrays his willingness to show his objections. Obviously, he wouldn’t do anything violent, but burning the uniform certainly crossed his mind. Lastly, the image of Damian in a suit shows his entrepreneurial side being prepped, as he leaves all that turmoil "behind him."

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