GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — It seems like a farfetched idea for a young man who wanted to be a tattoo artist to end up in the Air Force with one of the most extreme jobs as a joint terminal attack controller, but this is just what happened to a member of the 1st Air Support Operations Squadron in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Tech. Sgt. Joseph Hren knew he wanted to get out of his small town of Dylan, Mont., so at the first chance, he graduated high school early and went on his way to pursue his passion of art and tattoos. Little did he know 14 years later he would be commanding air strikes in war zones.
Originally, Sergeant Hren went to a Seattle art school to pursue his love of art and tattooing. Soon after he realized he did not like the way things were going, he was reunited with an old high school classmate.
“My buddy had just joined the Air Force. He told me I would be able to travel, and I thought, ‘tattooing is also a traveling job,’ so I joined and I’ve been doing it nonstop ever since,” said Sergeant Hren, JTAC instructor and evaluator who tattoos when he is downrange.
However, joining the Air Force as a fuel specialist did not always seem to be the right decision for Sergeant Hren.
“I originally was tasked to be a fuel specialist, and I started to realize I would not be happy doing that job,” he said. “I wanted to do something more challenging, so my training instructor sent the tactical air control party member recruiter to check me out.”
Surprised, but ready for the hard work the recruiter would put him through, Sergeant Hren was prepared.
“The recruiter ran me around the base, dropped me for push-ups and pretty much smoked me that day,” Sergeant Hren added. “He said I was going to live on Army bases the rest of my career and have a lot of training with the Army. I said I was in.”
Stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., for his first assignment, Sergeant Hren was happy to be doing two things he loved – being a JTAC and tattooing.
“We are the air and space power experts for the Army,” he said. “We embed ourselves with the Army and when the fire is too overwhelming the Army looks to us to call in air strikes on the target. We are artillery from the sky.”
During Sergeant Hren’s 10 years as a JTAC, he has moved up in the ranks.
“I am the head evaluator out of three other evaluators for the entire squadron, so I inspect everyone that comes through and sign off on their training,” he said. “I have to make sure they are able to do these skills to the tee.”
Working with Sergeant Hren, his co-workers have nothing but good things to say about him and his work ethics.
“Sergeant Hren has very real-world knowledge,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Rutledge, 1st ASOS chief JTAC-I. “He’s earned a Bronze Star with valor and has been in real-world situations.”
Known as Reverend Joe, Sergeant Hren has a very dynamic personality, Sergeant Rutledge added.
As a JTAC evaluator, Sergeant Hren not only has to grade the upcoming JTACs, but also give them advice.
“Stay motivated and learn the job the best of your ability,” Sergeant Hren said. “Be prepared to be gone a lot because we are not slowing down any time in the future, and just simply do your best.”
While tattooing is a big part of Sergeant Hren’s life, it is not one of his stress relievers.
“A lot of the time the only release a lot of us JTAC guys have is going to the gym. The whole ‘Fit to Fight’ thing is good because it keeps the stress off of you,” he said.
With tattooing being big hobby of his, many wonder how many tattoos Sergeant Hren actually has.
“Technically, I only have one tattoo,” he said. “But, it is called a Japanese body suit, so it is one large tattoo that covers a lot of my body.”
While people are known for having many tattoos in the JTAC career field, there are not many who beat Sergeant Hren’s tattoos, said Sergeant Rutledge.
“There is a giant demon mask on my back, and it represents a woman’s scorn,” said Sergeant Hren, who has been divorced twice. “There is a dragon on my arm to represent aggression and endurance. The pianese are actually colored a different color for every country I have fought in, and the snake is me being a lethal quiet thing going out and hitting targets.”
But the tattoos do not stop there.
“I also have stars on my elbows,” he added. “Red is for Iraq and blue is Afghanistan because it was cold in Afghanistan when I was there and extremely hot in Iraq. The flames represent every time I go to combat, and every time I will throw a different color in there.”
While Sergeant Hren will sometimes tattoo his fellow JTACs, he likes to stick to people he doesn’t know; however, this does not stop his co-workers from giving him the chance to ink their skin.
“I would let him give me a tattoo in a heartbeat,” Sergeant Rutledge said.
Sergeant Hren always knew there was a big world out there he wanted to see, and since joining he has.
“To name a few places, I’ve been to Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and I have done a couple of tours in Korea,” Sergeant Hren said.
With 14 years under his belt, Sergeant Hren has six years left before he leaves his JTAC career behind and takes up his passion of tattooing.
“I actually plan on buying a tattoo shop pretty soon with the re-enlistment bonus I will get,” Sergeant Hren said. “We save a lot of money in this job because we are gone a lot of the time. I am going to buy a shop as soon as I get back from my next deployment.”
To see more photos on Allied Strike IV or Sergeant Hren, visit www.ramstein.af.mil.