So the Marine Corps recently rolled out a new tattoo policy aiming “to balance the personal desires of Marines with high standards of professional military appearance and heritage,” according a statement on its website.
As indicated in the graphic above (click to enlarge) and in the very detailed rulebook, Marines can have unlimited tattoos covered by their physical training uniform of a T-shirt and shorts, but tattoos on the head, neck, inside of the mouth, wrists, knees, elbows and hands are banned. Oh, except for a single 3/8ths inch band on one finger. Additionally, officers—as opposed to enlisted personnel—can have no more than four tattoos visible in the PT uniform.
Probably the most meaningful change is that the elbow tat ban means Marines can’t get full sleeves from wrist to shoulder, a fairly common tattoo amongst younger people.
We are talking about men and women who have signed up to put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Should we really be restricting how they choose to adorn themselves, especially in an era where body art is pretty much de rigueur?
And like the headline says, we have mixed feelings on the subject. As the tattooed son of a retired Army officer who comes from a big military family, I have a healthy understanding of the band of brothers (and sisters) mentality that runs through much of the Armed Forces. Some level of uniformity is important to the team concept, which is part of why it took a lawsuit for a Sikh Army Captain to win the right to grow out his hair and beard.
At the same time, we are talking about men and women who have signed up to potentially put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Should we really be restricting how they choose to adorn themselves, especially in an era where body art is pretty much de rigueur?
Interestingly enough, the Navy recently relaxed its policies, allowing sailors to have neck tattoos, full sleeve tattoos and unlimited body art below the elbow or knee. The Army also no longer restricts the size or number of tattoos on soldiers’ arms and legs, while the Air Force is currently reviewing its policy.
Marines have a somewhat paradoxical image. There’s the rough-and-tumble badass image that movies like Full Metal Jacket have put in our heads, contrasted with the clean-shaven white-gloved fellow who picks up the forged sword at the end of the classic Marine recruitment ad. Seems like maybe they are trying to “clean up” an image that doesn’t really need cleaning up, as far as we’re concerned.
There’s some good news for current leathernecks, though. Like those hockey players who didn’t have to wear helmets in the ’80s, any member of the few, the proud whose tats currently fall outside these new regulations is, of course, grandfathered in…