Army Standards Relative
to Tattoos

 

 

In addition to the Selective Service System’s “Information for Registrants Booklet” and Chapter 2
of Army Regulation 40-501
(which lists hundreds of conditions which disqualify a person from enlistment, appointment, or induction into the Army), young men of draft age should also be
familiar with the Army’s policy regarding tattoos. Some tattoos, depending on content and
location, can disqualify a person from serving in the Army.

 

The Army’s policies relative to tattoos are found in Chapter 1 of Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. The current revision of AR 670-1 is dated 3 February 2005 and became effective 3 March 2005.

 

Below, the policy is given first. Then an article will follow in which Army Brigadier General Clayton
E. Melton, Director, Human Resources Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for
Personnel, answers frequently asked questions about the Army policy on tattoos.

 

e. Tattoo policy

 

(1) Tattoos or brands anywhere on the head, face, and neck above the class A uniform collar are prohibited.

 

(2) Tattoos or brands that are extremist, indecent, sexist, or racist are prohibited, regardless of
location on the body, as they are prejudicial to good order and discipline within units.

 

(a) Extremist tattoos or brands are those affiliated with, depicting, or symbolizing extremist philosophies, organizations, or activities. Extremist philosophies, organizations, and activities are those which advocate racial, gender or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, religion, or national origin; or advocate violence or other unlawful means of depriving individual rights under the
U.S. Constitution, Federal, or State law (see para 4–12, AR 600–20).

 

(b) Indecent tattoos or brands are those that are grossly offensive to modesty, decency, or propriety; shock the moral sense because of their vulgar, filthy, or disgusting nature or
tendency to incite lustful thought; or tend reasonably to corrupt morals or incite libidinous thoughts.

 

(c) Sexist tattoos or brands are those that advocate a philosophy that degrades or demeans
a person based on gender, but that may not meet the same definition of “indecent.”

 

(d) Racist tattoos or brands are those that advocate a philosophy that degrades or demeans
a person based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.

 

(3) Counseling requirements.

 

(a) Commanders will ensure soldiers understand the tattoo policy.

 

(b) For soldiers who are not in compliance, commanders may not order the removal of a
tattoo or brand. However, the commander must counsel soldiers, and afford them the
opportunity to seek medical advice about removal or alteration of the tattoo or brand.

 

(4) If soldiers are not in compliance with the policy, and refuse to remove or alter the tattoos or
brands, commanders will:

 

(a) Ensure the soldier understands the policy.

 

(b) Ensure the soldier has been afforded the opportunity to seek medical advice about
removal or alteration.

 

(c) Counsel the soldier in writing. The counseling form will state that the soldier’s refusal to remove extremist, indecent, sexist, or racist tattoos or brands anywhere on the body, or
refusal to remove any type of tattoo or brand visible in the class A uniform (worn with slacks/trousers), will result in discharge.

 

(5) Existing tattoos or brands on the hands that are not extremist, indecent, sexist, or racist, but
are visible in the class A uniform (worn with slacks/trousers), are authorized.

 

(6) Finality of determination.

 

(a) Recruiting battalion commanders or recruiting battalion executive officers (0–5 or above)
will make initial entry determinations that tattoos or brands comply with this policy for Active
Army and Army Reserve soldiers. This authority will not be delegated further.

 

(b) Unit commanders or unit executive officers will make determinations for soldiers currently
on active duty. This authority will not be delegated further.

 

(c) Recruiting and retention managers (O–5 or above) will make initial entry determinations
that tattoos or brands comply with this policy for National Guard soldiers. This authority will not
be delegated further.

 

(d) Professors of military science (O-5 or above) will make initial entry determinations that
tattoos or brands comply with this policy for ROTC cadets. This authority will not be delegated further.

 

(e) The Director of Admissions will make initial entry determinations that tattoos or brands comply with this policy for the U.S. Military Academy cadets. This authority will not be
delegated further.

 

(f) Determinations will be fully documented in writing and will include a description of existing tattoos or brands and their location on the body. A copy of the determination will be provided
to the soldier. Unless otherwise directed by the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, these determinations are final. If a tattoo or brand is discovered to violate this policy after an initial determination has been documented, commanders must submit requests for an exception to policy or for discharge through the soldier’s chain of command to the MACOM for approval. Appeals to the MACOM decision will be forwarded to the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1 for decision.

 

(7) Soldiers may not cover tattoos or brands in order to comply with the tattoo policy.

 

 

 

 

Army Tattoo Policy

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

"Visible tattoos or brands on the neck, face or head are prohibited. Tattoos on other areas of the
body that are prejudicial to good order and discipline are prohibited. Additionally, any type of tattoo
or brand that is visible while wearing a Class A uniform and detracts from a soldierly appearance
is prohibited."
(From AR 670-1)

 

Army Brigadier General Clayton E. Melton, Director, Human Resources Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, answers frequently asked questions about the Army policy
on tattoos.

 

Question: What is the main intent of the Army tattoo policy?

Answer: Our intent is to enforce Army uniform standards of appearance and also to prohibit soldiers from having tattoos that are indecent, racist, sexist, or that show an alliance with extremist organizations.

 

Question: What is your main concern about the field response to the Army tattoo policy?

Answer: We don't want soldiers to suffer retaliation because of leaders who do not understand the intent of
our tattoo policy. That is what I'm most concerned about.

 

Question: What confusions are leaders expressing about the tattoo policy?

Answer: Right now, some leaders are expressing confusion about how to tell if a tattoo is prejudicial to good order and discipline and about which tattoos detract from a soldierly appearance. We have had some examples of leaders' interpretations that we didn't intend to happen. A soldier may get a green light in one
unit. His leaders say "that tattoo is acceptable; we don't think that tattoo is prejudicial to good order and discipline. We do not think it detracts from a soldierly appearance." Then that soldier goes to the next unit
and the new commander says "that tattoo is visible in a Class A uniform. It has to be removed." We're
putting soldiers in such situations at a disadvantage. We don't want this to happen to our soldiers.

 

Question: Who determines which tattoos are inappropriate or offensive?

Answer: Commanders make the decisions based upon policy. All leaders should be involved in this
process. Leaders observe soldiers during formations, on duty in the work place and off duty. Also soldiers should report information to their leaders upon identification or observation of soldiers with questionable tattoos. Leaders and commanders will review and observe the questionable tattoos and then counsel
soldiers regarding inappropriate tattoos.

 

 

Question: What do you expect from leaders in making decisions regarding tattoos?

Answer: We want our leaders to make consistent, common sense judgments about which tattoos are acceptable and which ones require removal. Again, we do not want to put the soldier at a disadvantage.

 

Question: Will you give a few specific examples of tattoos that are causing confusion in the field?

Answer: Sure. Let's take the case of a female soldier who has a little butterfly or rose tattoo on her ankle,
and she's wearing Class A's in a skirt. Here's another one: a Sergeant First Class who spent twenty years
in the Army and had "Mom" tattooed on his hand when he came in the Army at eighteen years of age. We
are not prepared to take off every little butterfly and rose on the ankle or "Mom" off the hand. We did not
intend leaders to make the interpretation that these types of tattoos detract from a soldierly appearance
and say "remove that tattoo." We don't want to tell soldiers with these kinds of tattoos that they are in
violation of the regulation because the tattoo shows in a class A uniform. Under most circumstances,
small inconspicuous, or inoffensive tattoos are not prohibited unless they are on the face, head, or neck.

 

Question: But the examples you give are visible in a Class A uniform. Isn't that a violation of policy?

Answer: The tattoo policy established two conditions for prohibition of tattoos in the class A uniform: first,
that a tattoo is visible, and second, that it also detracts from a soldierly appearance. The presence of the
first condition, by itself, does not constitute a violation of the tattoo policy.

 

Question: What is an example of a tattoo that detracts from a soldierly appearance?

Answer: A series of tattoos or a large tattoo that covers the majority of one or more limbs would detract
from a soldierly appearance. For example, if a soldier has a vine or snake tattoo going all the way up the
ankle and up the leg, that tattoo would detract from a soldierly appearance.

 

Question: Would permanent make-up on the face, say eyeliner on a female soldier, be an unacceptable tattoo?

Answer: No. Not if the permanent makeup conforms to standards of appearance for the wearing of make-up
as described in AR 670-1 (para. 1-8b, p.12).

 

Question: Can you give an example of a tattoo that has to be removed because it is prejudicial to good order and discipline?

Answer: Let's take the example of a young soldier who came in the Army with a racist tattoo, say "KKK"
on his shoulder or hand or a lewd image with clearly sexist connotations. Other soldiers would see these tattoos and find them insulting and offensive, clearly prejudicial to good order and discipline, to unit
cohesion, and to morale.

 

Question: What types of tattoos are considered to be sexist?

Answer: By sexist, we mean tattoos which another soldier would find grossly indecent and offensive to modesty, decency, or propriety.

 

Question: What should leaders do when they become aware of a soldier with a tattoo that is racist, sexist, or extremist?

Answer: Let's take, for example, a soldier who put a "KKK" tattoo on the hand as a young person, but the leader has found no connection with any type of behavior associated with this racist-extremist tattoo. The leader needs to counsel the soldier and recommend use of the medical treatment available to remove the tattoo. The soldier should be asked if he or she would be willing to have the tattoo removed at Army
expense. Then we just need to get the tattoo removed.

 

Question: What should a commander do if a soldier refuses to remove an unacceptable tattoo?

Answer: The bottom line is that soldiers with offending tattoos should be counseled and advised of the
Army's policy about prohibited tattoos. If we have a soldier who has a tattoo that is racist, sexist, or
extremist, and that soldier refuses to remove the tattoo, we will counsel the soldier and start administrative action. We may decide to eliminate that soldier from the Army.

 

Question: Should a commander order a soldier to have a tattoo removed?

Answer: No. Commanders are responsible for telling soldiers about the policy, identifying unacceptable tattoos, and counseling soldiers. The commander may find it necessary to take administrative action. For example, the commander may bar reenlistment and possibly recommend separation of the soldier who
refuses to remove the offending tattoo. But in most cases, we do not recommend giving a direct order to remove a tattoo.

 

Question: Will the Army remove tattoos that soldiers apply in the future?

Answer: Any soldier who voluntarily has a tattoo applied in violation of policy needs to know the Army may
elect not to provide tattoo removal.

 

Question: Will the Army "grandfather" tattoos? That is, will tattoos be treated differently if they
were put on before the policy?

Answer: The Army does not have a policy to "grandfather" tattoos. Tattoos either are acceptable or not.
If they are not acceptable, then they should be considered for removal.

 

Question: Who pays for tattoo removal if a soldier gets an unacceptable tattoo after the policy
was put in force?

Answer: Soldiers who get tattoos after this policy has been placed in effect can be asked to have the
tattoos removed at their own expense. Leaders should tell soldiers that tattoo removal is far from being
a simple, easy task and that the cost of tattoo removal can be expensive. We don't want our soldiers to
be in this kind of situation. We expect soldiers to adhere to the tattoo policy just as they do to all other
Army policies.

 

Question: What is involved in tattoo removal?

Answer: Complete removal of a tattoo can take several months. Tattoo removal frequently requires five to
eight treatment sessions with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, with six to eight weeks between sessions. When you combine these variables with a potentially large number of soldiers initially referred for tattoo removal, you can see why we're asking commanders to have patience in completing implementation of this policy.

 

Question: How can a leader determine if there is behavior associated with a racist, sexist, or
extremist tattoo?

Answer: Leaders will have to rely on soldiers and other people who know the individual best. These include
the soldier's chain of command, the squad or section members, other soldiers in the barracks, and unit, and possible soldiers in nearby units on the installation.

 

Question: What should a leader do if racist, sexist, or extremist attitudes, but not actual behavior,
are uncovered in the course of querying a soldier about a tattoo?

Answer: Normally, soldiers who have racist and extremist attitudes make themselves quite obvious. Peer pressure alone and the fact that one must adapt to the norms of the group make it extremely difficult for
soldiers to conceal such attitudes and behavior. The leader should ask the soldier about his or her attitudes
to determine if the tattoo signifies racist or extremist behavior. Soldiers should be informed that they can be eliminated from military service based upon racist, sexist, or extremist attitudes and behaviors. Leaders
should refer to Army Command Policy (AR 600-20) for further guidance.

 

Question: What will happen if a leader finds that there is behavior associated with the racist or extremist tattoo?

Answer: If a soldier displays the associated extremist or racist behavior along with having the tattoo, we
have to do more than take that tattoo off. The soldier must be counseled and actions initiated to eliminate
that soldier from the Army.

 

Question: Who will remove the tattoos? Will the Army pay for tattoo removal?

Answer: The Medical Command is prepared to assist in removing unacceptable tattoos and brands. Commanders will refer soldiers who voluntarily agree to removal of inappropriate tattoos to the Army
Medical Treatment Facilities for removal. The MEDCOM will provide treatment for command-referred
soldiers at Army expense.

 

 

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