The Army Tattoo Policy: What’s Allowed and What’s Not
The Army Tattoo Policy has been reviewed and it’s now a bit more accommodating.
Prior to now, the policy was so strict that people who were tattooed had great difficulty getting enlisted into the army.
Highly skilled, trained and qualified recruits could not be enlisted into the army because of the tattoos they had on their body and most of the tattoos were contrary to the tattoo policy of the army.
The newly revised tattoo policy is still a bit strict but when compared with the previous policy, it can be said to be liberal.
The revision of the army’s tattoo policy, however, didn’t just happen out of the blue.
In recent times, body art such as tattoo and branding have gotten so popular that a huge percentage of the population now embrace it wholeheartedly and of course the army is part of a nation’s population.
According to a survey carried out by Statista, 4/10 adults in the United States between the ages of 18 – 69, have tattoos and it gets more interesting, only 39% do not have tattoos with 19% of them considering having one. That’s fascinating and it shows the culture shift in the United States.
Despite obvious reluctance, this has caused the military to soften on its tattoo policies.
With a huge percentage of the adult and youth getting tattooed on a daily basis it was becoming quite hard for the army to recruit the adequate number of soldiers they wanted to recruit, this is because many of them had tattoos that the policies didn’t favor.
Due to this, the volume of recruits who were fit for service and had to be rejected for having tattoos that weren’t permitted were quite much and if things were left to continue at that rate, it would be hard for the military to have new enlistment especially as tattooing is gaining popularity and spreading like a wildfire.
The results of a survey carried out by Pew Research stated that 38% of young adults between the ages of 18 to 29 have tattoos.
This is certainly what the military had to take into consideration regarding its new tattoo policy.
The problem wasn’t just with getting new recruits; soldiers already enlisted into the military were also developing an interest in the body art.
In a question and answer section with soldiers, it was discovered that a huge percentage of the soldiers felt that the army’s tattoo policy was too strict and needed to be more accommodating.
Deliberations were done and the military agreed that it was time to soften the policies.
Even though the policies of the military is not dictated by the soldiers, it’s only proper to listen to them and put their opinion into consideration especially in matters like this where it is a socially acceptable norm.
The decision to soften the tattoo policies is also beneficial to the military, the soldiers and recruits.
The military can now enlist more recruits, the chances of people getting recruited into the army are now higher than it was before and the serving soldiers can explore just a little bit more.
The army does not limit the number or size of tattoos anymore, with the Air Force dropping its 25% rule which doesn’t permit tattoos which cover over a quarter of the visible parts of a soldiers body.
In 2016, the Navy as well began to lift prohibitions against sailors having tattoos on their sleeves, neck, and ears.
The current body art culture of the United States helped moved the military to take such steps and place a structure in place that was capable of helping it adjust to the trend.
In a NavyTimes interview, Navy Master Petty Officer Mike Stevens stated: “We have to ensure that we don’t miss opportunities to retain and recruit the best and smartest men because of policies that don’t reflect the realities of our Nation.”
Despite the fact that the Army’s Tattoo Policy has been reviewed, it is still quite strict and there are still certain regulations concerning tattoos. For example:
The Marines do not allow quarter-sleeve or half-sleeve tattoos that are visible, even when they can only be seen in training clothes like shorts or T-shirts.
Additionally, body art on the neck, hand, wrists, and neck are prohibited.
However, the new policies allow Marines with non-compliant tattoos to get a prior service waiver at Marine recruiting stations, instead of the previous way to getting one in complex application processes.
Now let’s take a broader look at what the army’s tattoo policy entails what is permitted and what is not permitted by the policy.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED?
Despite the fact that the army’s tattoo policy has been slightly relaxed in order to provide room for new recruits, there are still certain rules guiding soldiers in getting a tattoo.
Although soldiers are permitted to have tattoos, below are some things that are not allowed by the army as far as getting tattoos is concerned.
It is important to note that the prohibition of certain types of tattoo is not without cause.
The army is an organization and it is important for the unity of the Force to be reflected in the appearance of the soldiers.
Even though the unique personality of each Soldier is respected, drawing unnecessary attention to oneself in the army is not tolerated.
This is because the soldiers despite being individuals are considered to be a part of something bigger and the interest of the army must be put ahead of personal preferences.
It’s on this basis that the army has a policy guiding getting tattooed while in active service.
Certain types of tattoo are not allowed in the army. Below is a list of the types of tattoos that are not allowed.
1. Indecent Tattoos
The army does not allow tattoos that are morally indecent.
A soldier is the people’s hero and shouldn’t have any tattoo that is disgusting, vulgar or repulsive to the moral sense of the society and corrupts the mind of people.
Although the army’s definition of what is considered to be an indecent tattoo is vague, it is safe to say that tattoos that are trigger lust, incite negative thoughts and contrary to the morals of the society can be considered indecent.
2. Racist Tattoos
Tattoos with racist undertones are not allowed in the army.
This included tattoos that revolve around philosophies that attempt to demean or encourage hatred and violence to a particular group of people based on race, national origin and ethnicity.
Racism is not tolerated in the international scene and it is totally out of place for a soldier who should enforce and maintain peace to be affiliated with anything that promotes violence against a particular group of people.
3. Extremist Tattoos
Any tattoo that symbolizes, promotes and depicts a philosophy or supports an organization (such as extreme religious organizations or terrorist organizations) is considered to be an extremist by the army.
Extremist tattoos include tattoos that promote intolerance or violence towards a particular group of people, a tattoo that encourages segregation, discrimination and possible violence based on the gender, race, religion, and origin of a person.
Such tattoos may be designed as logos, symbols or quotes of the extreme group or organization.
Many extremist organizations are responsible for terrorist activities in the world. A report showed that 328 extremist groups or organizations were responsible for terrorist attacks in 2016.
And responsibility for 37% of the terrorist attacks in 2017 was claimed by extremist terrorist organizations.
Below is the graph showing the death rate caused by extremist terrorist activities.
This is why the army frowns at any tattoo that promotes the beliefs of extremist organizations.
These organizations are giving the military a tough time globally.
It’s inappropriate for an insider in the army to be affiliated or have anything that may link them or show their affinity to these extremist organizations.
4. Sexist Tattoos
The army does not allow tattoos that in any way demean or degrades a person or group of persons based on their gender.
The army exists to serve everyone, the gender notwithstanding.
It doesn’t favor one gender over the other, therefore, doesn’t tolerate any tattoo that demeans or degrades a particular gender.
Asides the above types of tattoo explained, the army also frowns at certain practices and location of the tattoo on the body of the soldiers.
Below are some of the places that shouldn’t be tattooed on the body of the soldier.
- Tattoos are not allowed on the sleeves, the legs and arms of the soldiers. The tattoo must not be visible on any part of the body of the soldier that is exposed while wearing any of the military uniforms.
- The army bans having a tattoo on the head, neck, and face. Tattoos above the shirt collar (class A) are not allowed. Tattoos below the wrist bone are allowed.
- Tattoos that hamper the professional appearance of the military are not allowed. A soldier is not expected to draw unnecessary attention to him based on his appearance; he is supposed to fit in with the others without looking odd.
- Any tattoo that is visible around the hand should not be wider than two inches and only one visible tattoo is allowed on the hand.
- Visible tattoos that are below the knee and elbow should not be bigger than the size of the extended hand of the wearer.
- Tattoos below the knees and elbow should not exceed a total number of four.
- Covering up of inappropriate tattoos with makeup and bandage is highly prohibited.
The violation of any of these policies attracts a penalty. It is not only when being recruited into the army that the tattoo policy applies it is still important for soldiers in active service.
On a yearly basis, each soldier is checked by the commanders to see if they have acquired new tattoos which contradict the policy.
Tattoos concealed by the physical fitness uniform of the soldiers won’t be checked because the check will be done while the soldiers are in their physical fitness uniform.
If any soldier is found with an inappropriate tattoo, there is a punishment prescribed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The soldier may be asked to remove the tattoo in order to remain in active service.
WHAT IS ALLOWED?
You may be wondering if all the above are prohibited by the army, what else is left to be allowed in the tattoo policy. Well, the following is allowed under the army’s tattoo policy.
As stated earlier the army tattoo policies used to be a lot stricter until recently when they were relaxed because of the discontent of soldiers with the policy and the fact that tattoo is now more socially acceptable than they were in time past.
A recent study shows that in America there are 21,000 tattoo parlors and 42% of the adult populations have one or more tattoos on their body. In fact, the United States has the third largest tattooed populace. Take a look at the chart below.
Below is another chart showing the results of an opinion poll about tattoo carried out in the United States.
This increased interest in tattoo has also spread into the army and that is why the army tattoo policy was revised.
Currently, the following is permissible under the army tattoo policy.
1. The army allows soldiers to have a ring tattoo on each hand. The tattoo must however not exceeds the lowest knuckle area which is where the ring naturally rests.
2. Permanent makeup tattoo such as tattooed eyeliner and eyebrows are allowed provided it does not go against the army’s makeup rules.
This, however, applies to only women because the rule says that only women are allowed to use makeup which must be modest.
3. A tattoo is allowed on parts of the body that is covered by briefs. For men, the groin region can be tattooed while for the women the breast and the pelvic region that is concealed by underwear can be tattooed.
Generally, tattoos that are not visible when the army uniform is worn are not prohibited.
Much attention is paid to the areas that are exposed while wearing the uniforms because the tattoos can affect the decent professional appearance of the soldier.
Although the army permits certain kinds of tattoo and on certain parts of the body, there is still a need for the commander to validate the tattoo and submit an official file concerning the tattoo to the military.
Commanders are mandated and expected to validate the current tattoos of soldiers that are below the knee and the elbow.
Pictures of the tattoo as well as the description of the shape, color, and size of the tattoo must be included in an official memorandum.
While taking the picture of the tattoo, it must be taken with a good camera so that the picture quality is clear.
A nylon black and white ruler is what must be used to measure the size of the tattoo.
This is the measurement technique provided by the military and any other measurement that doesn’t tally with the result of the ruler provided by the military will be disregarded.
While taking a picture of the tattoo, the entire region where the tattoo is located must be photographed to facilitate easy identification of the part of the body that the tattoo is located in.
Tattoo of soldiers that are not above the neckline of the T-shirt, or on the arm and leg should not be included in the memo. Only the tattoos on areas of interest are documented.
After this is done, it must be submitted into the Army’s Military Human Resource record of the soldier with the tattoo. After the submission, the soldier with the tattoo will be given a copy of the record for him to keep.
The commanders are expected to do this check on an annual basis to ensure that no soldier gets a new and inappropriate tattoo without the knowledge of the army.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A SOLDIER DISOBEYS THE ARMY TATTOO POLICY?
As stated earlier in the article, any member of the army that defies the Army Tattoo Policy will be punished according to the law of the Army.
Here’s a bit of what the disciplinary procedure entails for any soldier that defaults:
First, it’s important to note that soldiers are advised to talk with the head of their units before getting a new tattoo, this is to ensure that they don’t get any tattoo that contradicts the tattoo policy of the army.
Secondly, soldiers who had a tattoo before being enlisted into the army will not be punished because chances are that the existing tattoos don’t defy the army’s policy in any way.
If however the soldier adds or edits the tattoo and changes it to anything that violates the policy, then he will be punished. Depending on the gravity of the offense, the punishment may just be a reprimand or a query.
But if the tattoo out rightly violates the army tattoo policy, the commander will first counsel the defaulting soldier of the existing tattoo rule.
If the military has zero tolerance for the tattoo that the soldier has, he will be ordered to have it removed.
The cost of removing or erasing the tattoo won’t be paid by the military unlike other health bills, it will be paid for by the soldier from his pocket, and this on its own is a disciplinary action.
If however, the soldier refuses to get rid of the tattoo, whatever may be the reason for the refusal, the commander will initiate an administrative separation proceeding for the defaulting soldier.
Most often, removal of the tattoo is mandatory if the tattoo is contrary to the army tattoo policy and if the soldier wishes to remain in active service in the army.
No matter how harsh this punishment may appear, it is in favor of the army. Having a soldier representing what is contrary to the beliefs of the army is not in the best interest of the military.
It is in the best interest of the military for such disobedience to be nipped in the bud before it spreads like a wildfire to the other soldiers.
Not punishing disobedience could be interpreted by the others as a sign that selective obedience is permissible.
In 2009 the army carried out a survey that showed 90% of combat soldiers, have a minimum of one tattoo, a greater average than that of the general population of 4/10.
This isn’t a surprise though, as servicemen for years have always had some sort of body art majorly to commemorate a fallen colleague, or as a show of honor to a unit.
Various forms of tattoos have been used by military men and women, most of which include patriotic symbols like an Eagle, the American flag or tattered flags, which usually represent a fallen warrior.
These things have made body art a major part of the army, and asides from the current trend, soldiers see it as a way to express certain emotions with regards to their unit in the army or in honor of a fellow soldier.
However, the military has always had strict rules regarding body art, and in order to stay afloat with current trends, revisions were made on previous prohibitions of certain types and locations of tattoos.
This does not mean that the United States army accepts every kind of body art or mutilation as we’ve already seen above.
But these revisions were majorly in order not to miss out on efficient recruits who already have some sort of body art.
For persons planning to be a part of the American army, these policies and revisions are very vital to consider as there are heavy penalties for ignoring these rules.
But for soldiers who are already a part of the military the rules concerning tattoos are already set in stone and must be adhered too.