In a recent interview with Marine Corps Times, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green confirmed that a long-awaited update to the Corps tattoo policy could happen within weeks, pending approval by Commandant General Joseph Dunford. However, despite the hopes of opponents, early information does not appear to indicate that the policy will include any major changes, but only clarification. So the question remains “Why are tattoos now taboo?”
The Marine Corps has a long tradition of tattoos, many of which are very personal in nature and depict patriotic or Pro-USMC themes while others honor heroes, shipmates and friends lost in battle. Honestly, I thought the idea of getting my first ink was a rite of passage and never gave a thought to the idea that it could someday negatively impact my career. I left the service before the current “less is better” attitude took root, but others have not been so lucky and news feeds are full of otherwise qualified Marines who claim their tasteful, but too big, body art prevents their reenlistment.
Tattoo supporters have repeatedly voiced their concern that the current policy is not only confusing and enforced sporadically, but does little to further the mission or readiness of the Corps. SMMC Green repeated previous claims that leaders are focused on providing a policy which is clearly written and easily interpreted, stating the updated policy will include not only additional illustrations and visual aids but also online guides and even a smartphone application. While this may allow the newest generation of Marines to better understand what not to do, and in a techno-friendly manner they might actually use, it does not answer the question “Why?”
I know the old saying “It’s not mine to wonder why…,” and while this may apply when the SSgt tells you to clear a building, it really does not address whether or not getting a set of crossed rifles on your forearm will keep you from reenlisting a couple of years down the road. SSMC Green did address this issue by repeating the often-heard philosophy “We want to make sure that the image that we project is the image America wants.” Sounds good, but does anyone really think that America cares whether a Marine has ink? I seriously doubt it. I think that when the majority of Americans think “Marine,” they care only about one thing and that is whether today’s Marines are capable of protecting this fine nation- most likely rarely give tattoos a second thought.
While I understand the military’s concern with projecting a professional image, I find it interesting that tattoos are even an issue when leaders are at the same time considering elimination of the prohibition against transgender service members. Which do you think the public will find less professional: a hard charging NCO who looks like Popeye or Pvt. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning?
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