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Army Changes Tattoo Policy

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army tattoo
jin hwan choi/Flickr
Updated May 23, 2014
By J.D. Leipold

The Army has revised its policy on tattoos in an effort to bolster recruitment of highly-qualified individuals who might otherwise have been excluded from joining.

Tattoos are now permitted on the hands and back of the neck if they are not “extremist, indecent, sexist or racist.” Army Regulation 670-1, which was modified via a message released Jan. 25, also now specifies: “Any tattoo or brand anywhere on the head or face is prohibited except for permanent make-up.”

For women, allowable make-up would be permanent eye-liner, eyebrows and makeup applied to fill in lips, officials said. They said permanent make-up should be conservative and complement the uniform and complexion in both style and color and will not be trendy.

The change was made because Army officials realized the number of potential recruits bearing skin art had grown enormously over the years.

About 30 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 have tattoos, according to a Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University survey. For those under age 25, the number is about 28 percent. In all, the post-baby-boom generations are more than three times as likely as boomers to have tattoos.

As a result of tattoo attitude changes, Army Regulation 670-1, chapter 1-8E (1) has been modified via an ALARACT 017/2006 message.

Additionally, paragraph 1-8B (1) (A) was revised to state: “Tattoos that are not extremist, indecent, sexist or racist are allowed on the hands and neck. Initial entry determinations will be made according to current guidance.”

The Army has never allowed indecent tattoos on any part of the body, G1 officials pointed out.

The new policy allows recruits and all Soldiers to sport tattoos on the neck behind an imaginary line straight down and back of the jawbone, provided the tattoos don’t violate good taste.

“The only tattoos acceptable on the neck are those on the back of the neck,” said Hank Minitrez, Army G-1 Human Resources Policy spokesman. “The ‘back’ of the neck is defined as being just under the ear lobe and across the back of the head. Throat tattoos on that portion of the neck considered the front, the ear lobe forward) are prohibited.”

Soldiers who are considering putting tattoos on their hands and necks, should consider asking their chain of command prior to being inked.

“While the Army places trust in the integrity of its Soldiers and leaders, if a Soldier has a questionable case regarding tattoos, he or she should seek the advice of the local commander through the chain of command,” added Minitrez.

Should a Soldier not seek advice and have tattoos applied that aren’t in keeping with AR-670, the command will counsel the Soldier on medical options, but may not order the Soldier to have the tattoos removed. However, if a Soldier opts not to take the medical option at Army expense, the Soldier may be discharged from service.

The U.S. Coast Guard has a limitation on the size of a tattoo in percentages of a given area that will not exceed 25 percent of the space between wrist and elbow, knee and ankle, but it does not allow tattoos on the hands or neck.

The Army’s new policy, however, does not mean Soldiers should rush out and have the backs of their necks or their hands entirely covered in decorative art, Minitrez said.

“The Army does not have a percentage policy for tattoos,” Minitrez said. “As long as tattoos do not distract from good military order and discipline and are not extremist, racist, sexist or indecent they’re permitted.”

If a Soldier’s current command has no issue with his/her tattoos, the Soldier should have personnel files so notated that the Soldier is in line with AR-670, officials said. Though not mandatory, having the notation entered serves as back-up documentation at a follow-on command which might feel the Soldier’s tattoos don’t meet Army regulations.

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