New Army Grooming Regs – Bye Bye (Visible) Tattoos

A new, 57-page training program the Army posted online outlines policy changes to the wear and appearance of Army uniforms and insignia, grooming standards, oral ornamentation such as gold teeth, jewelry, and tattoos or brands. Reaction is expected to be strongest with regard to the new regulations on tattoos in light of the significance they hold for those soldiers who wear them.

Tattoo Regulations

A soldier from the U.S. Army's 1st Platoon, 18th Engineer Company, Task Force Arrowhead rests at Forward Operating Base Mizan after completing a route clearance patrol in Afghanistan's Zabul Province in this May 24, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
A soldier from the U.S. Army’s 1st Platoon, 18th Engineer Company, Task Force Arrowhead rests at Forward Operating Base Mizan after completing a route clearance patrol in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province in this May 24, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

The new policy limits the size and number of tattoos allowed as well as adds the wrists, hands and fingers to the list of prohibited locations for visible tattoos. Tattoos covering the arms and legs have also been listed as unauthorized and the policy redefines “indecent” as grossly offensive to modesty, decency, propriety, or professionalism.

Current soldiers, officers and Warrant Officers with tattoos that were previously authorized but that are now prohibited, will be grandfathered in but all soldiers will still be barred from having any tattoos that are racist, sexist or extremist.

TattooRegsThe new rules could make it harder for civilians to enlist and for tattooed soldiers to advance up the ranks.  According to the yet-to-be-made – public  policy, enlisted soldiers with more than 4 tattoos in visible areas or those that violate the new policy in other ways won’t be allowed to become officers. Commanders will have to document all tattoos above the neckline and below the elbows or knees and file that information — including photos and descriptions of the tattoos — in the soldier’s official records. They will also have to perform annual checks for new tattoos in the prohibited areas, as well as for racist, sexist or extremist tattoos or brands.

New tattoos or brands found to violate the rules “must be processed in accordance” with AR 670-1, according to the document.  The language in the appearance and grooming chapter of AR 670-1 is punitive in nature.  What it boils down to is if the soldier’s tattoo is out of compliance and he/she refuses to have it removed or altered (at their own expense) that soldier could face discharge.

Other New Regs

[quote_right]”The new rules could make it harder for civilians to enlist and for tattooed soldiers to advance up the ranks.”[/quote_right]Other grooming restrictions in the new policy include a ban against body piercings and dental ornaments, wearing glasses on the top of the head, and restricted hairstyles for men and women. Men cannot shave their heads to form a teardrop, Mohawk or horseshoe.  Women are prohibited from wearing dreadlocks or twists but they can wear a ponytail during physical training. For clarification, the training document contains pictures of what is and what is not allowed with regard to facial hair, hairstyles and hair length.

There’s even a ban on walking while eating, using a cellphone or smoking a cigarette as those activities are deemed as presenting an unprofessional appearance, as well as interfering  with the greeting of the day or hand salute.

Many question the timing of the stricter regulations, especially since it appears that none of the changes except those relative to tattoos and brands can jeopardize a soldier’s career. What about the soldier who aspires to being an officer, who has fought valiantly to defend this country and may even have been decorated for his/her actions, but has more than 4 visible tattoos? It seems unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game. What is the motivation for the policy change? Is it to have a useful means for dismissing soldiers as part of the upcoming troop reductions? Or, as the brass says, is it an attempt to create a uniform, more professional look for soldiers?

Paul Paterson

VP of Retail Operations at US Patriot
Paul served 25 years in the Army Infantry and retired in 1999. He recently retired from US Patriot, where he was the VP of Retail Operations for the company’s brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Paul Paterson
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14 thoughts on “New Army Grooming Regs – Bye Bye (Visible) Tattoos

  1. I have mixed feelings about this move. The Army obviously wants to place limits on the proliferation of ink and other body image changes that may reflect on how the public perceive the military. I suspect that the brass also want to prevent the further intrusion of gang culture and affiliations into units.

    More to come.

  2. Everyone (except Congress) knows that you cannot legislate morality. But, the services can legislate what is deemed as “Professional” appearance. The tattoo, dental, hair codes and body piercing have become a needed reg change. If there weren’t a lot of soldiers pushing the limits of what a professional soldier looks like, then there wouldn’t have been a need to address this subject. IMOHO, it shouldn’t be difficult to tell if a person is a professional soldier or a gang member. And remember, when you enlist, you do give up some rights so that you can defend all rights.

  3. The new standards outlined in AR 670-1 are due to the Army looking to downsize. Tattoo regulations are an easy way to do just that. I don’t imagine this will be an eternal policy (bound to change again), but it is the current standard.

  4. I’m ok with limiting location of tattoos. I don’t think that fingers, hands, face, neck and such are appropriate nor sexual in nature or racist tattoos have any place for men and women in uniform however I am tired of this new culture that tattoos should not be allowed at all and it seems to me that is where they would like to take this. Tattoos have been around for hundreds of years and to most of us have great meaning. Its funny because I was down at the Marine recruiters a while back and he told me that it would be unlikely that I could get back into the Corps with my EGA on my forearm.

  5. What do they mean by

    “They will also have to perform annual checks for new tattoos in the prohibited areas, as well as for racist, sexist or extremist tattoos or brands.”

    Annual strip searches????

    1. No, not annual strip searches. Any tattoos in a visible area currently will be photographed and attached to your file. They will check the picture annually or if one is suspected of altering a tattoo. Also, if one switches units, the new commander will also see this file for reference.

    2. “Check is done by the Commander in physical fitness uniform.”

      It is clearly time for another war …

  6. I am totally frustrated with this new tattoo regulation. Come upon, tattoos are indeed are a great way of portraying their love for the family, friends and troop. Restricting our thoughts over decency and professionalism doesn’t seem tolerable and the regulation about hairstyles or appearances also seems unjustified. If people serve well and work hard, they have to right to style a bit to remain happier.

    1. well as a member of the service, decency and professionalism come before personal thoughts and feelings. It’s service before self, not the other way around. If one can’t comply, find another “job”. Honestly these regs were desperately needed as it was getting out of control. I’m sure in a few years they will be adjusted again. So till then adapt and press on.

      *22 year member of the military with tattoo’s BTW.

  7. Are you f–king kidding me?! Tattoos are a problem for the strap hangers? Soldiers have earned the right to show some attitude. I would rather have soldiers who are combat veterans to be retained in the Army than to be “encouraged” to ETS. This tattoo regulation is a jerk knee typical attitude of civilian “leadership” and upper echelon general officer level and associated strap hangers to the challenge posed by combat soldiers and the leadership needed to command, train and retain this talent. We may be winding down our “War on Global Terrorism” but the mission of the United States Army to fight and win and our need to have combat capable leaders ready to complete that mission will soon be tested. Ukraine ring any bells? Lets not screw up the Army by discouraging combat veterans from staying in by having these type of misguided “peace time” regulations. Vietnam ring any bells?

  8. When you say “visible” tattoos, could you please clarify exactly what that means? For instance, I have 4 tattoos below the knee (ankles) and 2 on the tops of my feet. How many are considered “visible” in that instance?

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