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Soldiers told new rules governing tattoos, grooming standards on the way

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — In the works for more than a year, strict new rules governing things like tattoos and grooming for soldiers have been approved by the Secretary of the Army and are only awaiting a final signature, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said Saturday.

Speaking to troops at bases in eastern Afghanistan, Chandler said Secretary John McHugh has approved but not yet officially put his name to the changes to Army Regulation 670-1.

“We’re just waiting for the secretary to sign,” Chandler said during a town hall meeting with soldiers from the 4th Combat Brigade Team, 10th Mountain Division, at Forward Operating Base Gamberi. He made similar remarks to troops at FOB Fenty in Jalalabad.

The regulations cover things such as tattoos, grooming, and uniforms and apply only to soldiers. Other branches of the military have their own grooming and appearance rules.

Chandler said he expects the changes to become policy in 30 to 60 days.

Media reports last year identified potential changes to rules governing things such as make-up and fingernail polish, hair styles, body piercings, and the length of sideburns, among other items. Chandler, however, only confirmed changes to the policy on tattoos.

Under the new policy, new recruits will not be allowed to have tattoos that show below the elbows and knees or above the neckline, Chandler told troops. 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, Chandler said.

While some soldiers at the meeting asked whether the Army will ever allow more visible tattoos, Chandler said it is a matter of maintaining a uniform look and sacrificing for the sake of the force.

When a soldier gets a tattoo that contains an curse word on the side of his neck, “I question ‘Why there?’ Are you trying to stand out?” Chandler said.

He said the Army wants soldiers to stand out, but because of their achievements, not because of the way they look.

In addition to the changes to the regulations, Chandler said officials will be separating many of the more specific policies in Army Regulation 670-1 and placing them in a Department of the Army pamphlet, which will make it clearer for troops to understand, as well as make it easier for future changes to be made.

On a separate note, Chandler told troops that the new Army combat uniforms will likely be phased in starting eight to nine months from now. The uniform will feature different colors for different environments, but the pattern will be very similar to the mottled “multicam” currently used in Afghanistan under the designation “Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern.”

The uniform will have different coloring for varying environments like jungle and desert, he said, rather than the widely panned “universal” color of the current ACUs.

Several companies, including the current manufacturer of MultiCam, Crye Precision LLC, have submitted proposals for the new uniforms, Bloomberg reported last month. No official announcement on the new uniforms has been made.

Congress has also pressed the military to use standard patterns across branches in order to save money.

Chandler said the most expensive part of moving to the new uniforms will be the gear like backpacks, body armor, and other items that are issued to all soldiers.

Additionally, the Army is pressing vendors to standardize boot sizes, Chandler said. Boot sizes often vary wildly, especially among women’s sizes.

smith.josh@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshjonsmith

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