New Army tattoo policy faces opposition from Fort Drum area soldiers, businesses


By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: September 29, 2013

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — As the Army moves toward restricting where soldiers can place their tattoos, the planned regulation changes are prompting questions from tattoo parlor owners, and a flurry of activity from soldiers before they go into effect.

The rules, banning tattoos above the neck line and below the elbow or knee, were discussed earlier this week by Army Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III, according to a report in Stars and Stripes.

The paper said he told troops in eastern Afghanistan that he expected Army Secretary and north country native John M. McHugh to approve the changes to Army regulation 670-1, which focuses on grooming and appearance, within the next 30 to 60 days.

Sgt. Maj. Chandler reportedly said after the policy change, soldiers will have to report their tattoos to unit leadership, and possibly pay to remove tattoos violating the policy.

The current regulation already forbids extremist, indecent, sexist and racist tattoos, and the placement of any tattoo on the face, head or neck above the class A uniform collar.

On Wednesday over at Pride and Glory Tattoos, State Street, Sgt. Jessica L. Skalski leaned forward as the shop’s owner James A. Kroeger drew a multicolored tattoo on her back depicting the cover art for the video game Borderlands 2, one of her favorite video games.

The tattoo is in addition to one depicting the game Mass Effect on her right thigh that she got a few weeks ago, and a cross on her left calf she had put on in 2010.

“I think it’s art,” Sgt. Skalski said. “It’s self-expression.”

Sitting next to her was Spc. Brittany R. Cooper, who serves with her in the 563rd Military Police Company, 91st Military Police Battalion. Spc. Cooper said she had five tattoos, from one marking her deployment to Iraq on her left leg to a melting Chevy logo on her left arm.

“A tattoo is a piece of your personality, who you are,” she said.

The two said tattoos were popular in their unit.

“I’d be surprised to find somebody who isn’t tattooed,” Sgt. Skalski said.

Both said they had heard other soldiers talking about getting one last tattoo before the rules are changed.

Mr. Kroeger, who served in the Army on active duty from 1997 to 2004, including time in the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and in the Army National Guard from 2005 to 2009, said half of his business came from military service members.

“This is another way for the military and the government to be stupid,” he said.

Mr. Kroeger said tattoos do not affect the performance of soldiers.

“Her trigger finger still works,” he said, looking over to Sgt. Skalski.

At Legacy Tattoo, Route 283, Watertown, co-owner James W. Frost said Friday that about 75 to 80 percent of his business came from military members, and many were looking to finish arm and leg tattoos they already started.

Many of the shop’s military customers get tattoos commemorating friends that died or got hurt during their service, Mr. Frost said, and for those tattoos placement is important.

“If you had a close friend that died and you want to memorialize them, you shouldn’t have to hide that,” Mr. Frost said.

For many soldiers, he said, a tattoo helped them outwardly project their toughness. Imagining himself as a potential enemy combatant, Mr. Frost said he would think a tattooed military would be more intimidating than a unmarked one.

“If they do that to themselves, what are they going to do to me?” he said.

An Army veteran himself, Mr. Frost said he already counseled his military customers against getting vulgar tattoos that may get them in trouble, which could also lead to problems with the post.

“You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you,” he said.

The potential rule change has made an impact on at least one soldier looking for new ink. On Friday afternoon at Spirit Ink II, State Street, Spc. Zachary J. McKenna spoke to Kenneth C. Bedford, the store’s owner, about a new tattoo of a cross with additional tribal markings on the upper portion of one of his arms.

Spc. McKenna, of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, returned about a week ago from a deployment in eastern Afghanistan.

He said he would like to have a new tattoo on his lower arm, but did not like the prospect of additional scrutiny from his unit leadership even if the tattoo could be grandfathered in.

“I might as well play along until I get out,” Spc. McKenna said.