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New tattoo rules for US soldiers

27 September 2013, 18:25

Washington - US soldiers once wore their tattoos like badges of honour, sporting them on their muscular arms to show devotion to their country, the military or possibly a girl waiting back home.

It was a sign of virility that they could stand the pain of the tattoo needle, but rarely was the body art bigger than the patches on the uniform itself.

The tattoos of today are far more elaborate and often cover a lot more skin, and that appears to have captured the attention of Pentagon policymakers who are finalising a revised policy on grooming.

Tattoos below the elbows and knees or above the neckline will be banned under the revised rules being discussed, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler said recently, according to the military newspaper Stars & Stripes.

In addition the Army will enforce existing rules in place since 2002 barring any tattoo that is sexist, racist or extremist.

In the works for more than a year, the strict new rules govern not only tattoos but the Army uniform and overall grooming for soldiers, according to Chandler.

‘Soldierly appearance’

Secretary of the Army John McHugh has approved the rules, but not yet signed them, Chandler told troops on 21 September at a base in eastern Afghanistan, noting that it's only a matter of time before he does.

"We're just waiting for the secretary to sign," Chandler told soldiers, Stars & Stripes reported.

The changes would require all soldiers to "sit down with their unit leaders and 'self identify' each tattoo," Chandler said.

In keeping with the Army's desire that its members maintain a "neat and soldierly appearance," new recruits will not be allowed to have tattoos that show below the elbows and knees or above the neckline. Current soldiers may be permitted to keep their tattoos in those areas.

Soldiers will be required to pay themselves for the removal of any tattoo that violates the policy, Chandler told the troops.

The Army would not comment on the Stars and Stripes report, other than to confirm it was "conducting final review of the forthcoming uniform policy" prior to its implementation.

Emily Gorman, marketing manager at Black Lotus Tattoo Gallery in Severn, Maryland, told dpa the policy struck her as un-American.

"How can you deny someone to serve their country?" asked Gorman, whose tattoo shop is located near Fort Meade, a US Army base outside Washington. About 60% of the shop's clients are soldiers or want to be, she said.

Chandler told the soldiers they should be recognised for their achievements, not for their appearance, but Gorman didn't see why having a tattoo would make a difference. "Someone is not going to look ungroomed because they have a tattoo on their arm," she said.

Gorman said a lot of soldiers' tattoos have special connections to the military such as their unit's motto or mascot, or references to relatives who served before.

"They are proud to have that on their body," Gorman said.

She was not aware of the Army's discussion of a revised policy, but said she didn't expect the shop to be hurt, because it already does a lot of tattoo removals from the wrists, forearms, hands and necks of potential recruits.

"We have people saying they have to get this off because they are joining," she said.


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