U.S. Army Set to Ban Tattoos Below the Elbow or Knees

Existing ink jobs could be grandfathered in.

Sgt. Shane Herring, 23, of Marietta, Calif. with the U.S. Army's Alpha Company 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment based in Hawaii, shows his tattoos at Combat Outpost Pirtle King in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
Sept. 23, 2013, 11:49 a.m.

The U.S. mil­it­ary and tat­toos have an en­tangled his­tory. The rise of the tat­too in pop­u­lar cul­ture star­ted with floods of inked vet­er­ans — es­pe­cially from World War II — re­turn­ing home with them. The first tat­too par­lor in New York City, es­tab­lished in 1846, served to mark up Civil War sol­diers.

It is that strong his­tory that’s prob­ably the reas­on why a blog post on the Army’s web­site de­clared in 2009, “Today, it seems, you couldn’t throw a rock in­to an Army form­a­tion without hit­ting a Sol­dier with at least one tat­too.”

So it might be strange for the Army to put forth a new rule ban­ning them on com­monly tat­tooed por­tions of the body.

At the Stars and Stripes, Josh Smith (a former Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­er) re­ports that Sec­ret­ary of the Army John McHugh has ap­proved, but not yet signed, a change to the Army’s ap­pear­ance reg­u­la­tions that would ban tat­toos from the fore­arm, be­low the knee, or above the neck­line. The Army will also re­quire the re­mov­al of of­fens­ive tat­toos, Smith re­ports,

Cur­rent sol­diers may be grand­fathered in, but all sol­diers will still be barred from hav­ing any tat­toos that are ra­cist, sex­ist, or ex­trem­ist.

 

Once the rules are im­ple­men­ted, sol­diers will sit down with their unit lead­ers and “self identi­fy” each tat­too. Sol­diers will be re­quired to pay for the re­mov­al of any tat­too that vi­ol­ates the policy, [Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray­mond Chand­ler] said.

For­cing the re­mov­al of of­fens­ive tat­toos is a step up in sever­ity from cur­rent reg­u­la­tions. Cur­rently, “com­mand­ers may not or­der the re­mov­al of a tat­too or brand. However, the com­mand­er must coun­sel sol­diers, and af­ford them the op­por­tun­ity to seek med­ic­al ad­vice about re­mov­al or al­ter­a­tion of the tat­too or brand.” If the sol­dier does re­spond to the coun­sel, the com­mand­er is to make sure “the sol­dier un­der­stands the policy.”

For ref­er­ence, here’s what the Army con­siders of­fens­ive in tat­toos.

(2) Tat­toos or brands that are ex­trem­ist, in­de­cent, sex­ist, or ra­cist are pro­hib­ited, re­gard­less of loc­a­tion on the body, as they are pre­ju­di­cial to good or­der and dis­cip­line with­in units.

(a) Ex­trem­ist tat­toos or brands are those af­fil­i­ated with, de­pict­ing, or sym­bol­iz­ing ex­trem­ist philo­sophies, or­gan­iz­a­tions, or activ­it­ies. Ex­trem­ist philo­sophies, or­gan­iz­a­tions, and activ­it­ies are those which ad­voc­ate ra­cial, gender, or eth­nic hatred or in­tol­er­ance; ad­voc­ate, cre­ate, or en­gage in il­leg­al dis­crim­in­a­tion based on race, col­or, gender, eth­ni­city, re­li­gion, or na­tion­al ori­gin; or ad­voc­ate vi­ol­ence or oth­er un­law­ful means of de­priving in­di­vidu­al rights un­der the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, fed­er­al, or state law (see para 4”“12, AR 600”“20).

(b) In­de­cent tat­toos or brands are those that are grossly of­fens­ive to mod­esty, de­cency, or pro­pri­ety; shock the mor­al sense be­cause of their vul­gar, filthy, or dis­gust­ing nature or tend­ency to in­cite lust­ful thought; or tend reas­on­ably to cor­rupt mor­als or in­cite li­bid­in­ous thoughts.

(c) Sex­ist tat­toos or brands are those that ad­voc­ate a philo­sophy that de­grades or de­means a per­son based on gender, but that may not meet the same defin­i­tion of “in­de­cent.”

(d) Ra­cist tat­toos or brands are those that ad­voc­ate a philo­sophy that de­grades or de­means a per­son based on race, eth­ni­city, or na­tion­al ori­gin.

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