Shift in Army's tattoo regulation makes it easier to get inked

Several service branches have altered regulations governing tattoos, piercings and brandings. The changes are in response to the increased popularity of tattoos among younger generations who could be seen as potential recruits.


By AMANDA DOLASINSKI | The Fayetteville Observer (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 19, 2016

When a soldier comes in for a tattoo, artist Mike Case intently listens to ideas while remaining conscientious about what can't be done.

"Awhile back, we knew the distance to keep it from their wrist, we knew they could only have one on their forearm the size of a palm," he said. "We definitely keep up with it."

Tattoos continue to be a topic of discussion among service members. The Marine Corps' policy, which recently changed, is stricter than those for the Army, Air Force and Navy.

The most recent changes to the Army's tattoo policy came last year when the Army lifted limits on the size or number of tattoos soldiers can have on their arms or legs.

Army regulations continue to prohibit tattoos on the neck, face and hand. The only exception is one ring tattoo per hand.

Case, who owns Fayetteville Ink and Art Gallery on Hay Street, estimated about 80 percent of his clients are soldiers. He said he's seen the Army's tattoo policy clamp down and loosen up.

Before the Army tightened its regulations, Case said his shop was flooded with soldiers who wanted to get tattoos grandfathered under the old policy. All of the soldiers he's inked understand the policy and find the new regulations easy to follow, he said.

"When we're explaining it to them, the soldier knows anyway," Case said. "Now, it's a fairly easy regulation. For awhile, we were having trouble with the half-sleeves, where you couldn't go past the elbow. It hurt businesses. People stopped getting tattoos or getting smaller tattoos in areas the (physical training) uniform would cover. Now things have lifted a little bit, it's helped out."

Case said he appreciates that the Army has shifted its regulations on tattoos to reflect societal changes. A large number of his military clients choose tattoos that memorialize a fallen comrade or to cover up an injury from war, he said.

In June, the Marine Corps changed its tattoo policy to allow service members to get bigger band tattoos and one ring tattoo per hand, among other changes.

The changes are outlined in a 14-page policy published on the Marine Corps' website. The policy includes photographs of examples of authorized and unauthorized tattoos, as well as a measuring tool to determine allowable placement of a tattoo.

The changes follow complaints from Marines that the policy had been too restrictive and complicated.

All branches of service prohibit service members from getting tattoos that are prejudicial to good order and discipline or of a nature that could bring discredit upon the military, in and out of uniform. Examples of prohibited tattoos include tattoos that are sexual or racial.

The Air Force policy states airmen are not allowed to display excessive tattoos that would detract from an appropriate image while in uniform. The Air Force said tattoos that cover more than 25 percent of any body part are considered excessive.

The Navy's tattoo policy states sailors are permitted to get tattoos on their necks if they don't exceed one inch in any dimension, but not on the head, face, ear or scalp. Sailors can get tattoos on their legs or arms of any size.

Last week, Juliomar Garcia powered through the discomfort as tattoo artist Case shaded roses on his rib cage.

In just 90 minutes, the tattoo Garcia got on his ribs four years ago would be long gone and out of sight covered by a bed of roses. It's his sixth tattoo.

Garcia, a wheeled vehicle mechanic stationed at Fort Bragg, said he always checks the latest Army regulations before he gets inked.

"The Army sets the regulations and they're easy to abide by," he said. "I think tattoos are just more of a trend now. They used to be affiliated with gangs and biker gangs and looked down upon. Now, it's a common thing. People are more open-minded."

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