Skin deep: 100 Army recruits turned away because of tattoo policy

By KRISTOPHER RIVERA | El Paso Times, Texas | Published: June 26, 2014

About 100 men and women in El Paso who wanted to enlist in the Army have been turned away because of new tattoo policies that began March 31, said a statement from the Army Recruiting Command in Phoenix.

"A lot of the applicants come in here with tattoos or with gauged ears and they've been wanting to join the military since they were kids and they're not able to," said Capt. Joshua Jacquez, Army recruiting company commander in El Paso.

According to Army Regulation 670-1, which details grooming and appearance standards for all soldiers while in uniform, new recruits cannot have more than four tattoos below the elbow or knee. Tattoos are also prohibited on the neck, face, head, hands, wrists and fingers. Ear gauges are also prohibited. Individual tattoos must be smaller than the recruit's hand. Individual tattoos that are clustered together to appear as one large tattoo are prohibited.

Excessive tattoos in the Army "was nothing that was getting out of hand," said Lt. Col. Jennifer McAfee, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Phoenix commander.

And the policy has not hurt recruitment numbers in El Paso, according McAfee.

"We're still putting many men and women in the Army, even though the Army's drawing down," she said.

For 2014, McAfee said the goal is to recruit more than 57,000 people for the Army and 18,000 recruits for in the Army Reserves.

"We're on track to make it," she added.

If new recruits decide to get tattoo removal, they should be cautious, said McAfee.

"(New recruits) they have to be careful about who they go to because they might leave a branding," she said.

A branding is a permanent mark left behind from a burn, which can be the result after a tattoo removal procedure. It can lead to an applicant being denied from enlisting.

"The Army is definitely a profession and we uphold discipline and standards, and that's what our leaders decided to do, change the policy for tattoos," she said.

John Ceballos, a military veteran and member of the "All-Airborne" Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association, said many members in the group have discussed the Army's tattoo policy.

"Back in our days we weren't allowed to have tattoos, so much of us are against it," said Ceballos, who was in the Army from 1967-74 in the 101st Airborne Division.

"We think it's distracting, it's not good etiquette in the appearance of a soldier," Ceballos said about tattoos visible on the neck and other exposed parts of the body while in uniform.

"Usually, most paratroopers would tattoo their paratrooper wings on their shoulder, but it was covered up," he added.

Tattoo policies in other branches of the military require that tattoos be covered up while in uniform.

In the Air Force, the tattoo policy prohibits airmen from having tattoos that cover more than 25 percent of a body part while wearing any type of uniform, such as short sleeve, long sleeve, sleeves rolled up or open collar. Any tattoos above the collarbone, such as on the neck, head, face, tongue, lips or scalp, are prohibited.

In the Marine Corps, new recruits with more than four tattoos will be subject to review according to its tattoo policy.

Tattoos on the head and neck are prohibited. Sleeve tattoos, and half-sleeve or quarter-sleeve tattoos that are visible to the eye when wearing standard physical training gear are prohibited.

In the Navy, tattoos on the head, face and neck are prohibited as well as tattoos on the inner lips or mouth that are visible with an open mouth. Tattoos located on the torso, legs or upper arm cannot be visible while wearing white uniform clothing. Tattoos exposed when wearing a properly fitted crew neck T-shirt cannot be bigger than the applicant's hand.

For all branches of the military, the content of tattoos is also reviewed before men and women can enlist.


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