Military wives unite -- with tattoos
By Chuck Haga
MINNEAPOLIS -- As tattoo artist Joseph Trowbridge drew military dog tags on Shannon Weyant's shoulder, her friends teased her about the point of no return.
"Got the name on yet?" Jennifer Janisch asked, and Trowbridge nodded.
"Well, you're branded now," Janisch said.
"Yeah," Weyant said, "I'll only be marrying Jims from now on."
That brought a chuckle from Trowbridge, still working on a tattoo naming and honoring Sgt. Jim Weyant, due home from Afghanistan in May.
They've been friends for more than a year, but they hadn't met until Janisch, 31, of Blaine, invited Weyant, 27, of Waukee, Iowa, and two other women to the Twin Cities last weekend for a "Military Wives Go Wild" event, with shopping, makeovers, a night on the town and dog-tag tattoos at Tatts by Zapp in Stillwater.
When career Marine Jason Janisch was deployed to Kuwait, then took part in the invasion of Iraq, his wife went to http://www.militarywives.com, a Web site by and for military wives. There she found Weyant and Brandi Zimmermann, 21, of Tama, Iowa, and Teri Myers, 25, of Goodfield, Ill.
"We're battle buddies," Weyant said. "Just as our husbands have battle buddies -- guys who are always supposed to be with them -- we have each other. We keep each other upbeat. We keep each other's confidence up."
Zimmermann's husband, Erik Baker, is an Army specialist due home in July after more than a year in Kuwait and Iraq.
Army Spec. Daniel Myers has returned from Kuwait, but his wife still leans on the other women.
"They help you get through everyday problems, the problems that seem so big at the time but, with a little help and encouragement, you can figure out," Teri Myers said.
They learned -- and now tell newcomers -- how to read a military pay stub, what to send to loved ones overseas and why phone calls don't come every day.
"We took a liking to each other's style right away," Weyant said. "We don't play around and sugarcoat everything. We say how it is."
At Eclipse, the New Brighton salon where she works as a hairdresser, Janisch did a foil on Weyant's hair as Zimmermann and Myers watched, waiting their turns.
"Shannon's kind of a wild child, so we're doing some colors," Janisch said.
Nothing will startle her husband, Weyant said. "He says as long as I'm not bald, he'll be OK."
And what will he think about the dog-tag tattoo?
"Oh, Jim is just going to pee himself," she said. "He's the Marine, and I have more tattoos than he does!"
This was Myers' first tattoo, and she was the most nervous. Rather than dog tags, she opted for a deep-blue Celtik cross in the small of her back.
None of the women has served in the military. But each sees herself as part of the military, especially in wartime.
"I went though boot camp with my husband, and I've gone through six deployments with him," Janisch said.
"We fight our own war here," Weyant added. "I'm taking care of three kids, trying to keep their morale up. We fight against being depressed, being worried."
Janisch again: "You've got the house to take care of, the bills to pay, your mother-in-law is calling you -- freaking out -- and you're trying to calm her down, and all you want is for someone to calm you down.
"He worried about me while he was over there. That's why it was so good to be able to go to these girls when I was stressed. I didn't need to stress him out when he needed to focus on what he was doing."
Jason Janisch returned to Minnesota in July 2003, eight days before Jennifer gave birth to their fourth child.
"I didn't know how much she depended on these women," he said. "It's unbelievable the bond they have -- the stories they shared, the comfort they gave each other.
"It's a huge thing when you're over there to know that your family has support at home. It's tough to do your job if you're worrying about that."
Online, the women talked of fixing water heaters, reassuring children and dealing with people who oppose the U.S. effort in Iraq.
"I was wearing a yellow ribbon while I was out grocery shopping," Weyant said. "A man asked if my husband was overseas, and I said he was. He said, 'Your husband has no business being there.' And this was in front of my children.
"The best are those who say, 'Tell your husband thanks for what he's doing, and thanks to you for what you're doing.' It makes me cry every time."
As they were having their hair done, another customer who overheard them talking left small metal "pocket angels" for each of them -- and $100 for dinner.
"We had to chase her down in the parking lot and hug her and cry," Weyant said.