Tattoos are a proud mark of accomplishment for athletes and club members at Norwich


Earned, Never Given.

This concept reflects long-standing tradition throughout many Norwich University clubs, teams, and specialty units. For each of these groups, earning one’s place means reaching a level of achievement and dedication – and often that recognition comes with the right to wear a tattoo if you are selected or deemed eligible by your team or group.

These inked designs serve not just as an image of one’s sacrifice and dedication to these organizations, but a more permanent reminder of how far one has come during their time here at Norwich.

Since the Norwich campus is home to many extracurricular organizations, some notable organizations in the scheme of tattoos would be the men’s and women’s rugby teams, the Norwich Artillery Battery, and the Mountain and Cold Weather Company.

The “Rugadillo” is the common tattoo for the Norwich men’s rugby team. This design was originally drafted in the early days of the sport, explains Jacob McMullen, 21, a senior computer security major from Warwick, R.I. The team was “not always a varsity sport and used to be a club team, so the mascot and symbol mean more since it was hard work to get the team to where it is now,” he said.

Jacob McMullen shows off the whimsical “Rugadillo” creature tattoed on his arm, earned as a member of the men’s rugby team.     Rebecca Friend photo.

To earn the tattoo, a member of the team has to play three fall seasons of rugby to gain eligibility. At that time, the other team members must vote to approve getting the tattoo. If chosen, one is not obligated to get the tattoo, but it continues to demonstrate loyalty and dedication to the team if you do, McMullen said.

The tattoo includes the words NURFC (Norwich University rugby football club) but the choice of color or highlights is up to each player. “Personally, I got a little bit of UV ink, so it glows in different lighting, just to make it my own,” McMullen said. “That’s the little bit of difference you can have, along with the location on your body. Normally the location varies on what position you play on the field. Some players get it on their ribs while others have it on their thigh.”

The women’s rugby team has a similar tattoo tradition, requiring a player participate in three fall seasons in order to earn the privilege. A team member also earns a jacket after playing two fall seasons. The person who gives you your jacket does not have to be the same person who gives you your stencil for the tattoo, said Victoria Olchowoj, 21, a senior psychology major from Dobson, N.C.

The tattoo design is always the same and you have to “ask someone who has the tattoo already for the stencil of the tattoo and gain approval from there,” Olchowoj said. “The team decides on who has earned it for that particular season and they go with stencils from there. But it’s not something you’re just given, it is something you have to seek out.”

The tattoo consists of a handful of different parts and is based around a rose. The rose in the center has two words around it, one on the top and one on the bottom. These words are Elegant Violence, and are written in Gaelic, Olchowoj said.

Norwich University specialty units also have tattoos that their active members can earn.

“The Norwich Artillery Battery (NAB) has a tattoo of our earned device that you get upon successful completion of the year of Red-Leg training,” said Catherine Castonguay, Norwich University Class of 2016 and a former NAB company commander. “This tattoo is of the crossed-cannons and your class year centered underneath it,” she said.

Since the NAB classes started again in 2012 with the development of a new program, 001 became the first class to design and earn the tattoo,

A member of the Norwich Artillery Battery shows off his proud tattoo. Rebecca Friend Photo

Castonguay said. “‘Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies,’ is a quote that my only my class has on our tattoos. This is after one of our training sergeants who took his own life, he had it on his ribcage, and this was something that we did to honor him.”

The Red-Leg classes have become composites of different graduating years, so the people who earn the tattoo, may not graduate all together as one. This just means that you have stronger ties to the people you suffered through training with, even though they may come before you or after you, Castonguay explained.

Members of the Mountain and Cold Weather Company (MCW) also sport tattoos. The company has two levels of training, greenstick (level 1) and assault climber (level 2), and only those who have completed level 2 training as assault climbers are eligible to get the tattoo, said Russell Cole, 21, a senior history major from Holderness, N.H.

The assault climber program has been a new addition to MCW within the last few years and there are only five classes that have come through the program so far, Cole said, so the tattoo that goes with it is pretty new.

“The tattoo comes from a composition of four different pieces. These pieces are the ram’s head, the compass rose, edelweiss, and ice axes,” Cole said. “The ram’s head is the international symbol of mountaineering or mountains; the compass rose for always knowing true directions and moving toward them; the edelweiss is an old warfare symbol for mountaineering; and the ice axe as we do a considerable amount of ice climbing and instruction.”

The compass rose is the most significant piece on this particular tattoo, Cole said. This is the piece that varies from person to person as it is one color from your gear colors (a two-color combination that a climber uses to denote what gear is theirs) that you get from your mentor and one more color that you choose for yourself.

“This tattoo is not mandatory, but you earn the right to get it once you earn your level 2 – assault climber designation. A tattoo artist up in Burlington designed the concept and since he is so close, everyone goes to him to get their art done,” Cole said. He noted there is no obligation to get it – some people don’t want tattoos – but said it is just one more thing that students can have that ties them back to Norwich and back to MCW.


  1. Paul R Parsons says:

    The compass rose from the MCW tattoo goes back to the origins of the MCW program– the Norwich Outing Club.

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