(U.S. Marine Corps)

WASHINGTON — A new tattoo policy unveiled Thursday allows Marines to join other servicemembers in showing a bit more ink but continues to ban arm-covering designs.

Gen. Robert Neller, the Marines commandant, issued the tattoo policy in a 32-page bulletin that does not include any of the drastic changes approved recently by other military services. Last year, the Army approved the popular sleeve tattoos. In March, the Navy also allowed sailors to sport sleeves and a small neck tattoo.

Marines are banned from inking their head, neck, wrists, knees, elbows and hands, other than a single band tattoo of less than 3/8ths of an inch width on one of their fingers – such as a wedding ring tattoo.

Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green said he and Neller spent months developing the new policy, which intends to simplify the regulation last updated in 2010.

“We’ve attempted to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession,” Green said in a prepared statement.

The policy does not regulate tattoos that are not visible when wearing the Marine Corps’ physical training uniform, but it limits the amount of ink Marines can show in the standard shorts and T-shirts. Marines sporting tattoos allowed in older regulations will not be impacted by the new policy.

Visible band tattoos – ones that wrap around an arm or leg – can be up to three inches wide, an inch larger than the previous policy allowed.

All visible tattoos must be small enough to be covered by the Marine’s hand.

Officers cannot have more than four tattoos visible in physical training uniforms, and enlisted soldiers will not be considered for a commission if they have more than four visible tattoos.

All services continue to ban racist or sexist tattoos, or any others deemed “prejudicial to good order and discipline.”

Marines have 120 days to have existing non-compliant tattoos documented for their personnel file. Enlisted Marines will have tattoos reviewed for compliance when they submit for reenlistment. Officers will have tattoos examined at promotion boards.

Green said the opinions of Marines on tattoo policy were considered before the new regulation was established.

Neller “allowed more skin area for tattoos in an effort to balance the Marine’s desires with the grooming standards of the Marine Corps,” Green said. “He wanted the policy to allow Marines freedom and flexibility to express themselves, while also being clearly written and understandable for both Marines and their leadership.” Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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