Tattoo-covered soldiers, their ink showing even in uniform, became a common sight over the last decade, reflecting both changing styles and the relaxed standards used to boost enlistments, but with the wars almost over and the Army preparing to downsize, body art is on the way out.
Almost immediately after taking his post in 2011, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler began talking about tightening the Army’s uniform and grooming policy. Those changes, which have been a source of speculation and debate among soldiers since they were first announced, have just been confirmed by Chandler to include restrictions on tattoos that will roll back the more lenient guidelines used during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The incoming policy will prevent new soldiers who have tattoos that reach below their elbow or their knee or above their neckline from enlisting.
The initial wave of reaction on military blogs and social media has been largely negative. Many commenters cite the tattoo standard as antiquated and a poor indication of a soldier’s ability to perform the job. Others say body art has become a large part of the Army’s own culture, resurrecting an argument that surfaced when rumors of the new tattoo policy started circulating in 2011.
While the changes are unpopular with some, they have not come as a surprise. Chandler has stated his ideas openly and encouraged discussion. When he asked for feedback on his Facebook page In 2011, many wrote in to voice their support, singling out neck tattoos in particular as looking unprofessional and citing the need for uniformity of appearance.
The most divisive aspect of Chandler’s original proposal in 2011 concerned the fate of soldiers who had been allowed to enlist with tattoos that would be prohibited under new restrictions. At the time, the possibility that those soldiers might be forced to remove their ink or leave the Army was not ruled out. But the new rules take a more moderate position on the issue, in what may be a concession to the negative reaction within the ranks at talk of combat veterans being penalized or forced out for having tattoos that were allowed when they signed up.
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