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Air Force nixes tattoo policy after two weeks

By WARREN PEACE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2009

STUTTGART, Germany — The Air Force has scrapped a two-week-old policy that prohibited recruits from having a tattoo on their right arm, and leaders are now conducting a review of the service’s personal-appearance regulations.

Under the policy released Nov. 25, potential recruits could not enter the service if they had a tattoo on their saluting arm, which created problems for more than two dozen recruits who were waiting for their basic training slots to open up. By scrapping the policy, those 26 recruits — who were enrolled in the military’s Delayed Entry Program — will get a second chance to join the service, according to Amy Bartholomew, the chief of media for the Air Force Recruiting Service.

As of Monday, 20 of the recruits are returning, three decided not to join, two are temporarily disqualified and one’s status is unknown, according to Christa D’Andrea, chief of Public Affairs for the Air Force Recruiting Service. Of the two temporary disqualifications, one is recovering from a vehicle accident and the other is recovering from a tattoo removal.

The new policy had applied only to recruits, meaning airmen were not prohibited from getting a tattoo on their right arm after they finished basic training.

The Nov. 25 guidance was intended to make sure recruits were in compliance with the Air Force tattoo policy and “were portraying a professional military image,” Bartholomew said in an e-mail. But a review of more than 6,000 trainees at boot camp found that more than 80 individuals did not comply with the Air Force’s tattoo policy standards, she said.

As a result, several Air Force agencies are conducting a review of the Dress and Personal Appearance regulation to ensure that the policy is applied consistently across the Air Force.

Until then, all airmen and recruits will follow the pre-existing policy that bans tattoos and brands from covering 25 percent of an exposed body part while wearing physical training clothing. Also, markings above the collar bone and visible while wearing short-sleeve shirts are unauthorized, as are tattoos and brands that are obscene or advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination.

Airmen also should expect some sort of tattoo documentation program once the policy is re-released.

When the Marine Corps made similar changes to its policy, for example, Marines had to have their pre-existing tattoos photographed and documented to prove they had the tattoo before the new policy went into effect.


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