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

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.

The 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

“The new rules could make it harder for civilians to enlist and for tattooed soldiers to advance up the ranks.” 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

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.
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