Soldiers Brace for New Rules Limiting Tattoos

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tattooed soldiers whose body art is “racist, sexist or extremist” may be forced to remove the offending ink at their own cost under strict new rules governing grooming generally and tattoos specifically, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler, who was speaking to troops in Afghanistan. According to Chandler, the new rules are in final form and await only a signature from Secretary of the Army John McHugh. The rules are expected to become policy in 1 or 2 months.


The “new” policy is largely a reversion to pre-9/11 Army grooming rules, which banned tattoos anywhere they were not covered by the Army uniform. A recruiting crisis during the Iraq War forced the Army to relax its rules related to grooming and other requirements, but with recruitment having bounced back, the Army now seems confident it can meet its quotas even with the higher standards.


Forcing soldiers to remove offensive tattoos is a definite escalation from current regulations, which allow the Army to urge removal but not require it. The definition of “offensive” tattoos includes those that are racist, sexist, or indecent, i.e., “grossly offensive to modesty, decency, or propriety.” Although such vague definitions would be unconstitutional if applied to civilian life, those in the military have greatly circumscribed rights to self-expression.


Under the new rules, new recruits may not have tattoos that show below the elbows and knees or above the neckline, and current soldiers may be grandfathered in only for their non-offensive tattoos.


The new regulations, which will also cover uniforms, makeup, hair and all aspects of grooming, will apply only to the Army, as each branch of the military has its own rules. The Marine Corps, for example, two years ago banned Marines from rolling up their sleeves—probably to hide the prevalence of tattoos in the Corps.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Soldiers Told New Rules Governing Tattoos, Grooming Standards on the Way (by Josh Smith, Stars and Stripes)

Army Set to Ban Tattoos Below the Elbow or Knees (by Brian Resnick, National Journal)

Marines Forbidden to Roll Up Sleeves (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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