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Marines tighten restrictions on tattoos

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 21, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — Marines who are thinking about getting ink done should check out the Corps’ revised tattoo policy.

According to a Marine Administrative Message released Tuesday, the Marine Corps' new policy on tattoos bans "sleeve" tattoos that are visible when Marines wear their PT uniforms. Such tattoos cover most of Marines' arms or legs.

Under previous regulations, a Marine was prohibited from having tattoos only on his neck and head.

Full-sleeve tattoos, which cover all of Marines arms and legs, are now prohibited. Half- and quarter-sleeve tattoos visible while wearing the PT shirt or shorts are also banned.

Marines who already have sleeve tattoos will be allowed to keep their existing designs, but they must have all of their tattoos photographed and recorded, the policy states.

As was the case under the old tattoo policy, Marines still are not allowed to have tattoos on their necks and heads. Also not allowed are tattoos that are “prejudicial to good order, discipline and morale, or are of a nature to bring discredit upon the Marine Corps,” according to the policy.

Such tattoos include, but are not limited to, any that are “sexist, racist, vulgar, anti-American, anti-social, gang related, or extremist group or organization related,” policy states.

In early 2006 the Army clarified its tattoo policy last year to allow some head and neck tattoos, changing a long-time policy against clearly visible markings.

Sailors are still prohibited from having such tattoos. But last spring the Navy eliminated its “25 percent” rule, which stated only one-quarter of any portion of the body covered by sailors’ uniforms could be tattooed. The Navy’s new rule is that sailors’ tattoos, regardless of size, may not be visible through the Navy’s summer white uniform.

Meanwhile, the Air Force prohibits tattoos that cover more than 25 percent of exposed body parts and those visible above the collarbone, according to an August 2006 Air Force Instruction.

Such tattoos are considered “excessive,” and if airmen refuse to cover them, they can be kicked out of the Air Force, the service policy states.

Last May the Department of Defense changed its policy on tattoo removal, requiring all active-duty troops who wish to have the marks lasered away to pay for it themselves.

The new regulation, MARADMIN 198/07, is available at www.usmc.mil.


Tattoo Q&A ...

The Marine Corps on Tuesday announced a new, more restrictive tattoo policy. Stripes asked 1st Lt. Brian P. Donnelly, a spokesman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, for more information.

What prompted this move?
Concerns over excessive tattooing, specifically sleeve tattoos, was raised by the August 2006 Sergeants Major Symposium. Marines' appearances are a direct reflection of the Marine Corps and it is felt excessive tattoos are not in line with the traditional values of the Marine Corps.

How long has the Corps been looking at revising its tattoo policy?
The tattoo policy was reviewed numerous times since its implementation in May 96 (ALMAR 194/96). The current review began in August 2006.

How did the Corps decide which tattoos are permissible and which are not?
Sleeve tattoos were specifically identified as being excessive during the review and staffing which led to the decision to prohibit them. Tattoos on the head or neck and tattoos that are prejudicial to good order (racist, sexist, gang related, etc.) were already prohibited under the policy.

What happens to Marines who get a tattoo that is prohibited under this new policy?
A Marine who gets a tattoo that violates the policy can be charged under the UCMJ for violation of a direct order.

The MARADMIN states sleeve tattoos can be grandfathered. Does that also apply to half- and quarter-sleeves?
Yes, the grandfathering is for Marines who have any form of sleeve tattoo, half, quarter or full.

Could Marines be prevented from re-enlisting if they have “questionable tattoos?”
Yes, a Marine could potentially be denied re-enlistment for a questionable or prohibited tattoo. The Deputy Commandant for Manpower & Reserve Affairs (Manpower Management Division) is the adjudicating authority for retention issues.

If so, how does that fit in with the Corps' plan to grow to 202,000 Marines by fiscal 2011?
The policy change is not related to the end strength increase nor do we anticipate any detrimental effects.

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