SMA: Army Tattoo Policy May Change Again
Army Tattoo Policy Is Always a Hot Topic
Reading a copy of the Army Times just two days ago, I was not surprised to see an article in which the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) was out and about discussing the current tattoo policy with Soldiers and senior leaders.
It seems that many Army leaders, both junior and senior, are taking exception to the current Army tattoo policy and would like to see it tightened up.
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler is the Army's senior enlisted member. The role of the SMA is a very unique and honored one. He or she is to serve as an advocate to address the issues and concerns of the enlisted soldiers to all officers, and all the way up to the Army's highest positions. The SMA is the senior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Staff of the US Army.
Just to give you a quick example of the power and teamwork of the SMA and the Chief of Staff of the Army, when Soldiers wanted to do away with the decade long black beret policy the current SMA and COS listened, considered and acted. The beret which had been the duty headgear for Soldiers quickly went away. The force rejoiced!
Army Tattoo Policy Is a Bit More Sensitive
The Army tattoo policy was loosened at the height of the combat actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to assist the Army Recruiting Command in enlisting qualified members. The current tattoo policy allows for females to wear permanent, tattooed make-up as long as it is of an acceptable skin tone and also allows for tattoos to be on the back of the neck.
Tattoos that not visible in uniform as long as they are not offensive, vulgar, racist, extremist or sexist are allowed as well.
The tattoo policy has always been a sensitive issue and one that recruiting commanders and Soldiers must always be mindful of when enlisting young men and women. The terms vulgar, racist and extremist are pretty well defined and the Army had little trouble with the pushing those definitions. An example of tattos that would fall under those categories are: cuss words, swastikas, gang symbols, names of gangs, depictions of naked men or women, etc. Tracking all of these symbols and signs is a large responsibility.
Enlisting a Soldier with tattoos that were "concern" became an "event". Forms needed to be filled out with exact locations and meaning clearly reported on those forms and in the recruiting information systems. Pictures were taken in different types of uniform shirts, measurements were taken and then, finally, an executive or commanding officer would study, consider and either approve or disapprove based on guidelines within the regulations.
As another example: "Back of the neck" meant "earlobe and back". Recruiters would put the applicant in a collared, Army dress uniform shirt and take pictures from several different angles to ensure it was not visible.
Another issue that makes the tattoo policy difficult for recruiters to assess is that that a tattoo that is not visible in regular clothing can not bee shown to a recruiter or photographed by anyone in the command for obvious privacy and decency issues.
The Army's Concern With Tattoos
The Army is a professional organization, and as such, its Soldiers should present themselves in that fashion. Tattoos can easily detract from the professional appearance of a Soldier in uniform. The problem is that the Army has a few different uniforms. A tattoo that cannot be seen in an Army Service Uniform or Army Combat Uniform may be visible in the an Army Physical Fitness Uniform.
Furthermore, words like "professional appearance" and "offensive" become open to interpretation.
A Possibly Sticky Situation
Loosening the tattoo policy to allow the Army to grow when needed and then talk of tightening the policy back the same week as the President announces a full troop withdrawal from Iraq has caused a mild uproar within the ranks. It could possibly send the message that the Army will change policy and worth of applicants based upon need, rather than a professional standard. Was the Army less professional when engaged in constant combat in Iraq?
However, the Army has been ordered to downsize and when that historically happens the Army does tighten its standards with enlistments and retention. This not atypical of any organization and it is a decision that will weigh heavily on Army leadership. Will a current Soldier find themselves in a situation where they could be denied re-enlistment due to a change in the Army tattoo policy when just 3 years earlier they were allowed to enlist with the same tattoo?
The tattoo policy change is a hot topic. The more I see people reading this and searching for it in Google makes me happy that I wrote this as soon as it was talked about.
What do you all think of Soldiers with tattoos?
It's now "officially" official. The new AR (Army Regulation) 670-1 will be out soon to include changes in the tattoo policy as well as the requirement to be clean shaven at all times (leave, off-duty, hospitalized, etc.)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.