A tattoo artist buzzed two Japanese characters on Cory Davidson’s neck in about 10 minutes.

Two and a half years, two ink cover-up sessions, two laser surgery removal sessions and $1,000 later, the image is faded but still on his neck.

And that means Davidson can’t join the Army.

“Since I was a kid, I would see these guys in their uniforms, and they would shake your hand and give you a brochure,” he said. “I really wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps.”

Army regulations, however, say anyone with a tattoo or brand showing above a uniform collar can’t join. But Davidson said the Anderson Recruiting Office told him that if he got the tattoo removed, he could still sign on.

“We greatly appreciate his desire to serve our nation, and we acknowledge his efforts to make the tattoo less visible,” said Steven Lawson, public affairs specialist with the Army recruitment battalion in Indianapolis. The Anderson recruitment office directed calls to him. “Unfortunately, it does not meet enlistment standards.”

Davidson said he first met Anderson recruiter Justin Rooks in July 2004. Davidson already knew his asthma would prevent him from joining the Marines, but the Army was still an option.

By the fall of 2004, with Rooks’ help, he decided the Army was the best way to get a good job with good benefits. He said he scored well on the Army’s entrance exam, and was headed for an assignment as an intelligence analyst.

“I thought I could go to school, maybe become a JAG,” he said. “I wanted to retire from the military.”

Then he headed back to the tattoo salon to get the image covered with white and flesh-colored ink.

Davidson said he did so on his recruiter’s suggestion, which is against Army regulations.

“Recruiting personnel will not participate in any activity to assist the applicant ... to remove or cover a tattoo or brand,” Lawson said, quoting the Army’s policy.

But the cover-up didn’t work.

So he headed to a doctor’s office in Marion for laser removal surgery. When that didn’t remove the image completely, he tried to go back, but that doctor wouldn’t operate again for another month.

With his ship-out date looming, Davidson found another doctor willing to perform a second procedure, one that faded the characters but didn’t remove them completely.

The operation did leave scabs on his neck. Since the Army doesn’t allow men to ship out with open wounds, he had to stay in Indianapolis and give up his intelligence analyst position.

But Indianapolis recruiting officials did give him clearance to ship out after the scabs healed over.

With the wounds healed and a new assignment as a medical technician, Davidson was finally shipped out to Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Officers there noticed his tattoo, and, despite his tattoo waiver signed by five officers, told him he would have to go home.

Since then, he’s been at home, appealing the decision and attending classes at Ivy Tech Community College in criminology. He’s enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. Mike Pence’s office.

“These kind of appeals are very common; we deal with them on a daily basis. We have about a 75 percent success rate,” Bill Smith, Pence’s chief of staff, said, adding Pence is personally aware of Davidson’s dilemma. “A lot will be up to the U.S. Army.”

His office has sent Davidson the appeal forms, beginning a process that usually lasts about a year.

Davidson said he’d still like to follow several uncles and a grandfather into the military. After he went on Channel 8 news with his story, Davidson said the station got thousands of supportive e-mails.

“That took me by surprise,” he said. “I guess there are a lot of people with tattoos who want to join the Army.”

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