Army set to ease tattoo rules

Army Pfc. Kevin Nixon, left, a Fort Bragg solider, watches as tattoo artist Brad Armstrong shades in a tattoo of a cross on Nixon's shoulder on Oct. 11, 2013, at Ink Well in Fayetteville, N.C.


By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 2, 2015

This story has been updated.

WASHINGTON — The Army announced Wednesday it soon will ease restrictions on tattoos imposed last year to improve soldiers’ appearance.

The new policy will lift limits on the number and size but still prohibit tattoos on the neck and face. Tattoos with racist, sexist or extremist imagery will also remain prohibited, according to Army spokesman Wayne Hall.

The regulations are among a series of planned changes to Army Regulation 670-1, which deals with dress and appearance. The service said the changes will be effective when the new rule is published, which is expected to be “soon,” though no date was set.

“This is essentially rolling the [tattoo] regulation back to what it was before the last change,” Hall said.

A year ago, the Army announced that full-sleeve tattoos were banned, and no more than four small tattoos could be visible on the lower arms and legs. Those who already had them were grandfathered.

Hall said soldiers will no longer face limits on the size and amount of tattoos on their arms and legs. But the Army will continue to prohibit them on the neck above the T-shirt collar, on the head or face, and on the hands and wrists except for single ring tattoos.

New tattoo and grooming standards issued in March of last year caused public controversy, mostly because they banned certain hairstyles popular among black female soldiers.

The hairstyle rules were eased in September but the Army did not initially budge on the tattoo rules.

Hall said the coming changes are due to input the Army received over the past year from soldiers.

“We want soldiers to play a role in helping to shape policy,” he said.

Other changes to 670-1 will deal with traveling in uniform and allow commanders to authorize soldiers to fly in their Army combat uniform, Hall said.

“This is one change of a number of changes that will be done to 670-1,” he said.

Reactions to the coming change were uniformly positive.

“Guys in the military love their tattoos,” said Pfc. Dwight Plowright, with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Grafenwöhr, Germany. “It’s a common thing nowadays. I get that they want to have the professional side, but it’s like taking a side of us away.”

Spc. Taylor Sowell, with the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Vilseck, Germany, agreed.

“I don’t see any real reason why they shouldn’t be there because the guys cover their arms up anyway,” he said. “I don’t see any harm in in it, so long as it doesn’t affect their jobs.”

Jeff Vargo, a Gulf War veteran who was an infantry soldier friom 1988 to 1998, took a longer view.

“I still believe that as long as it doesn’t show past your uniform it shouldn’t matter, you should be able to be who you are,” Vargo said from Grafenwöhr. “We are still the land of the free. We’re supposed to be fighting for people’s freedoms, not what they look like.”

Twitter: @Travis_Tritten