At Sasebo, better ask before you ink
October 19, 2003
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — If she wanted a new tattoo, Petty Officer 2nd Class Shenika Hewins says a new requirement to first ask permission from the base command is no big deal.
The 22-year-old legal assistant in Sasebo’s Staff Judge Advocate’s Office said she already has four including the image of a tiny ladybug on her neck.
“I got that one before coming in the Navy,” she said. “My other ones are all on my legs, and they don’t show when I’m in uniform.”
Earlier this month, Sasebo’s skipper Capt. Michael James ordered all tattoos must be documented with a description of the image, its size and location.
New tattoos are prohibited unless command leadership approves. The new rule applies to the some 250 sailors of shore command.
According to Navy regulations, some forms of tattoos, body art and brands are prohibited, such as images located on the neck or above.
The new command regulation explains that other unauthorized tattoos are those “excessive in number and size, obscene, sexually explicit, or advocating or symbolizing discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or ethnic or national origin.”
The base’s command master chief petty officer, William Lowman — charged with enforcing the measure — said tattoos reflecting gang affiliations, supremacist or extremist groups and drug use also are out of bounds, as is any body art visible through uniform clothing.
“The Navy is a professional organization,” he said. “One of the goals we want to maintain and improve is making sure sailors have a conservative, professional appearance.”
Implementation and enforcement of enhanced instructions branching from the servicewide regulations is carried out by individual commands, Lowman said.
By mandating command permission to acquire additional body art, he explained, another layer of good judgment filters the process.
“What may seem to be without any offensive quality to one person may look entirely different to others once we’ve had another set of eyes involved,” he said.
“What we want is to make sure they are appropriate, and sailors don’t have them in places where they are visible through the uniform,” Lowman added.
The driving force is not to forbid sailors from acquiring tattoos. However, if a sailor ignores the new rule, a variety of disciplinary actions can result, he said.
Hewins, who plans to attend law school, said there is a social stigma attached to tattoos — particularly among those in private professional arenas.
Hewins said common sense dictates that her skin won’t become a canvas.
“Yes, I know some people who grumble, and they say, ‘We’re all grown. So, why should we have to get permission?’ And in a way, I can see both sides,” she said. “I just don’t mind asking permission.”