More and more people are getting tattoos these days. But for those in the military, tattooing as a form of self-expression is a different story. While there is a rich history between the military and tattoos, each U.S. military branch has standards about what, where, how many, and how much ink their members can have before enlistment – and during service.
Such regulations ensure that military personnel maintain standards and appearances for the given branch. Military tattoo regulations are comparable to uniform standards – both aim to minimize unnecessary divisions or conflicts between service members.
Possible recruits and existing military members should consider these guidelines – broken down by branch – before getting new ink:
The Navy bases its tattoo policy on four criteria:
- Content: The Navy doesn’t want it sailors covered in images that might jeopardize unit cohesion, like gang signs or swastikas. Any explicit ink (sex, drugs, violence, etc.) should also be avoided if you’re serious about joining.
- Location: Standard uniform items must be able to cover a tattoo. Tattoos on the face, neck, head, and sleeved arms violate the Navy’s tattoo policy.
- Size: A tattoo should be no larger than your open hand.
- Cosmetic: The Navy does allow cosmetic ink, like eyebrow or lipstick tattoos. However, cosmetic tattoos must complement the individual and have a natural color.
Recent changes in Army tattoo policies are slightly more relaxed than the Navy’s regulations. These rules don’t allow:
- Any tattoo in any location that’s indecent, extremist, raciest or sexist, like racial slurs.
- Any tattoo associated with groups of hate known to engage in extreme behavior or propagate racial, ethnic, or gender intolerance, like Nazi ink or KKK tattoos.
- Any sexist tattoo that degrades others based on gender.
While the Navy and Army have adopted a more relaxed stance on tattoos, the Marine tattoo policy has gotten more restrictive this year. The Marines added new rules to their existing regulations in an effort to better realign with their “traditional values” of professionalism. The following tattoos are unacceptable:
- Sexist, racist, vulgar, extremist or eccentric tattoos.
- Head, neck, hand, wrist, and finger tattoos.
- Full, half, and quarter-length tattoo sleeves.
- Tattoos on the inside of the mouth.
Enlisted Marines who had ink done before the tattoo policy revisions can continue service and enjoy promotions. However, they aren’t eligible for recruiting duty, enlisted-to-officer programs, or security guard duty.
Airmen have perhaps the strictest uniform and tattoo policies in the armed forces. Prior to joining, candidates are expected to have “excessive” and “offensive” tattoos removed – at their own out-of-pocket cost.
The Air Force defines “excessive” as any tattoo(s) that covers more than 25% of an exposed body part, like an arm or leg. Like the other military branches, “offensive” ink refers to racist, sexist, etc. bodywork.
In the Coast Guard, tattoos can’t promote discrimination or racism, indecency, extremism, violence or lawlessness. Additionally, your ink shouldn’t detract from your overall professional appearance.
The Coast Guard strictly prohibits:
- Head, face, and neck tattoos.
- Brightly-colored permanent eyeliner.
- Neck tattoos visible above the collar of the issued light blue shirt uniform.
If the tattoos meet location regulations, the Coast Guard does not regulate the size of recruits’ ink. However, Guardsmen who want to advance their careers within the Coast Guard must ensure their tattoos comply with stricter Uniform Regulations.
On rare occasions, a branch may accept certain tattoos that violate regulations with a written exception from an officer. Prohibited tattoos often result in disciplinary action, from reprimands to separation.
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*Image credit: http://inkarmy.com