Soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg support a thriving tattoo industry in Fayetteville and the surrounding towns. For some, the process of getting ink is just as important as the artwork.
Daniel Wright is a Purple Heart recipient injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's also a tattoo artist with Operation Tattooing Freedom, a nonprofit offering military men and women free tattoos.
He says learning the art of tattooing helped him cope with his own post-traumatic stress disorder, and he believes the experience of veterans getting tattooed by fellow veterans can be healing.
"It's a pain, but at the same time, that pain helps relieve some of the stresses you have," said Wright, as he prepared to inscribe the emblem of the 101st Airborne Division on veteran Kayla Knight at Fayetteville's All-American Tattoo Convention.
"To me, a tattoo relaxes me, it calms me down," she said. "To me, it's mellowing. I don't feel the pain in it." She noted all her military tattoos have been done by veteran artists.
Navy veteran Lewis Hunt founded Operation Tattooing Freedom after his first experience being tattooed by a fellow veteran led him to open up about his struggles with PTSD. Though there's little research into so-called "tattoo therapy," Hunt is one of many service members who say the combination of talk and tattoos helps them cope.
"We don't talk about stuff very well," said Hunt. " But vets talk to vets more than they talk to anybody else, and everybody talks on the tattoo table."
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org