Tattoo Warfare: U.S. Army vs. Tattoos

jsammy in Stories

Way back in March, The army decided to tighten up its policy regarding to tattoos.

American Eagle
American Eagle

After doing some research, I've found that the U.S. Army is actually the last branch of the U.S. Military to update its policies on this. Most recently, in the last decade, the Navy has updated it a couple of times, with the last time being in 2010. The Marines also updated their policy back in 2010 and the Air Force did in 2012. Currently all four branches do not allow tattoo sleeves or tattoos around the neck. (Based on Army regulation 670-1, A sleeve tattoo is a tattoo that is a very large tattoo or a collection of smaller tattoos that covers or almost covers a person’s arm or leg. Sleeve tattoos are not authorized below the elbow or below the knee.)

While I would find it hard to believe that anyone would argue the type of tattoos that are not allowed (Extremist, Indecent, Sexist, Racist), I believe the main argument is location and number of tattoos. Army personal are prohibited from having tattoos on their fingers, wrists, hands, neck, face and/or head and they may not have more than four tattoos below the knee or below the elbow. I reviewed both versions of Army Regulation 670–1 and they re-updated and added quite a bit to the tattoo section to break down types of tattoos, definitions and now, the fact that tattoos prior to this change are now grandfathered in. I would have a complete excerpt of it, but it went from a few paragraphs, updated to a few pages.

While tattoos have always had an association with military personal, it seems the military as a whole wants to make sure they keep a level of professionalism. Every outburst by a disgruntled officer or enlisted person I have read argues about not getting a tattoo or a certain type of tattoo. The fact of the matter is, nowhere does it say you cannot get a tattoo. It simply lists unwanted types of tattoos and locations that are not allowed. I remember when I joined the USMC back in the early 90’s. All through recruitment the recruiter preached DO NOT GET (any kind of) TATTOOS OR YOU WILL PAY FOR IT IN BOOT CAMP. I still got tattoos, two actually. Then I went to Parris Island and oh, did I pay for it in boot camp.


Find your next tattoo

    Photos courtesy Staff Sgt. Adam Thorogood
    Photos courtesy Staff Sgt. Adam Thorogood

    Last May, a national guardsman asked a federal judge to overturn the new rules calling them “unconstitutional” and decided to sue the U.S. Army for $100 Million. Although Staff Sgt. Adam C. Thorogood’s 11 tattoos have been grandfathered in, under the new rules he is barred from seeking promotion to warrant officer. Staff Sgt. Thorogood was active duty in the army for 10 years, is a decorated soldier and sniper. He switched to reserves to pursue a degree at Middle Tennessee State University. His dream was to join “The Nightstalkers”, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. It ended with Assistant US Attorney Regina S. Edwards stated in a motion that there is no legal basis for suing the Army since he is not being harmed by the policy. Seems anyone can sue anyone these days for anything? Well try and sue I guess. I would be downright scared to try to sue the U.S. Anything. Whether you win or lose, it doesn't matter. you’re on their radar now. lol

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    U.S. Army vs. Tattoos
    U.S. Army vs. Tattoos

    Interesting enough, I find sides are quite separated on this. After reviewing the Facebook site of RallyPoint, The military’s largest professional network, I found some interesting points made:

    "Don't like the rules...don't join or re-up. They are called 'uniform regs' for a reason."

    "Used to be if you wanted to be in the spec ops community you could have NO identifiable marks aka tats, for plausible deniability."

    "What everyone needs to realize is that tattoos ARE a personal choice and while you may not see anything wrong with them it is the people that are looking at you that may feel differently. Every person has a different idea of what is or is not professional. They needed to put something in writing to set limits or on how far people are allowed to go. Case in point this person probably believes there is nothing wrong with the way he looks either."

    Myself, I’m a man of tattoos. But tattoos, appearance, how you treat people, where you work; all have one thing in common:
    Myself, I’m a man of tattoos. But tattoos, appearance, how you treat people, where you work; all have one thing in common:

    Choice. I have been struggling as of late about getting more tattoos. I even already have them picked out. The problem I have is contemplating with my family what the repercussions are. How will this affect my job now or in the future? How would people view me? Should I care? Is it fair?

    Before you say “No, it isn't fair”, the answer is that “Fair” has nothing to do with it when it’s your choice. If it wasn't my choice, then there would be all sorts of flags and banners going up as to how unfair it may be.

    U.S. Army vs. Tattoos
    U.S. Army vs. Tattoos

    You don’t have to dress like that. You don’t have to work at that place, and you don’t have to have tattoos. I think to some extent we are pushing more and more into anarchy. There is a difference between being individualistic and not following rules simply because you don’t agree with them.

    Despite whether or not you agree with this, it seems the Army might be backing off a bit. Gannett reports that changes may be coming yet again. The fight Staff Sgt. Adam C. Thorogood fought may be over, but it would seem that the one line he wanted changed is coming. Gannett also goes on to point out that, per Army spokesman Paul Prince the Army has granted "approximately 59 exceptions to policy for tattoos" for enlisted soldiers working to become officers or warrant officers.

    With that said, who is right and who is wrong? Does it matter? The fact is, they are both right. The U.S. Army has every right to impose changes in grooming and presentation; just like any other entity that employs people. If you don’t like it, don’t work for them. However, it’s hard to progress if there aren’t people questioning things.

    Tattoos are becoming more and more commonplace and I believe to some extent there does need to be some latitude with regards to tattoos. What do you think about tattoo warfare?



    I enjoy, tats, electric shots and my first round already covered. Not necessarily in that order. Tattoos are the window to your soul. No you're not soulless, you just haven't found the right artist. This is my "Don't look at my daughter" look.


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