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Air Force Policy on Tattoos, Body Art, and Body Piercings

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There may be situations where the commander can restrict the wear of non-visible body ornaments. Those situations would include any body ornamentation that interferes with the performance of the member’s military duties. The factors to be evaluated in making this determination include, but are not limited to: impairs the safe and effective operation of weapons, military equipment, or machinery; poses a health or safety hazard to the wearer or others; or interferes with the proper wear of special or protective clothing or equipment (EXAMPLE: helmets, flack jackets, flight suits, camouflaged uniforms, gas masks, wet suits, and crash rescue equipment).

Installation or higher commanders may impose more restrictive standards for tattoos and body ornaments, on or off duty, in those locations where the Air Force-wide standards may not be adequate to address cultural sensitivities (e.g.; overseas) or mission requirements (e.g.; basic training environments).

Note: In Jan 03, the Air Force also announced a policy which prohibits body mutilation, such as split tongues.

Frequency Asked Questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers from the experts concerning the recent revision to Air Force Instruction 36-2903 on body piercing and tattoos.

Question: Why do we need a tattoo and body piercing policy?

Answer: The policy was created based on requests from commanders and first sergeants who wanted clearer standards and guidelines in the face of the growing popularity of body art and body piercing fads.

Question: Who created this policy?

Answer: The policy evolved over 19 months and included the use of a tiger team composed of first sergeants, commanders, social actions people and representatives from medical and legal offices, Recruiting Service, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command. All Air Force major commands reviewed policy proposals, and the final version of the policy was arrived at only after thorough discussion by senior leaders at the Air Staff.

Question: Who has the final say on the appropriateness of earrings, body piercing or branding?

Answer: Commanders and first sergeants are the first line of authority for making this determination. Body piercing (other than earrings) is quite straightforward -- don't display it while in uniform, while performing official duty in civilian attire or on a military installation at any time. Tattoos are a bit more subjective, but this policy provides commanders guidelines to make the calls.

Question: Does the body piercing policy apply to all areas of the military installation -- including recreation facilities (pools, ball fields, etc.) and living areas (dormitories, military family housing)?

Answer: Yes. But it is also important to note the policy only addresses personal appearance issues while on the installation. Although the Air Force encourages airmen to maintain an appropriate military image at all times, piercing practices off base, such as earring wear by males, are not intended to be addressed by this policy.

Question: What happens to those people who had tattoos before this new policy came into effect, and who might now be in violation of the policy?

Answer: It's expected that most tattoos fall within acceptable guidelines. Questionable tattoos will be considered on a case-by-case basis between the airmen and their commander. If a tattoo is "unauthorized" -- racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory in nature -- the tattoo must be removed at member expense. If a commander rules that a tattoo falls into the other category of "inappropriate," there are other options, to include using uniform items to cover part or all of the image(s).

Question: Is there a set timeframe to have a tattoo removed before being involuntarily separated?

Answer: There is not a set timeframe for removal. The commander determines the sense of urgency, depending on the nature of the tattoo. For instance, if airmen have inappropriate tattoos they would like to voluntarily remove, the commander can assist them in seeking medical support for the procedure. The timing of removal in this case will be driven primarily by the availability of medical facilities staffed and equipped for tattoo removals.

Above Information Derived from AFI 36-2903 and the Air Force News Service

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