Are you someone who loves tattoos and also has a desire to serve your country? Enlisting in the military is an admirable decision; there are a variety of branches with wide ranges of benefits to offer. The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard each come with opportunities all their own. Unfortunately, those perks are off-limits if you have ink in the wrong areas or of questionable content. If you’re an avid ink collector, you may want to familiarize yourself with the regulations regarding tattoos.
You may be confused; isn’t tattooing something that’s intertwined with military culture? You may have even heard stories about sailors and soldiers utilizing their stops along their deployment to indulge in tattoos and other recreation. Ink is part of the picture, to an extent. Although there are lots of service men and women who have tattoos, there are specifications regarding where your ink is, what it’s depicting, and how large it can be. It’s definitely better to know about these up front so that you can avoid getting anything tattooed that will prevent your opportunity to serve, or so that you can have any images removed that are going to inhibit your career from progressing.
What about a tattoo matters? Depending on the location, size, and artistic focus of a tattoo, it may or may not meet standards for a particular military branch. Generally, anything considered offensive to a “reasonable individual” is not allowed. This might include drug paraphernalia, gang symbols, sexual references, violence, and hate symbols. Nothing is allowed that discriminates against any particular group including racial, sexual, and religious communities.
Who gets to say what qualifies and what doesn’t? Typically individuals go through a visual inspection as part of the on-boarding and recruitment process. If your ink is found to fall short of military standards, you can rest assured you’ll be notified.
Generally speaking, the head, neck, face, eyelids, mouth, nostrils, and hands are off-limits for ink. Some intricacies apply to finger tattoos, which will be discussed later. If you’re planning to get inked and you’d like to enlist, plan to avoid these areas for general assurance.
The Navy last updated its tattoo regulations in March of 2016 to reflect that the size of tattoos on arms and legs doesn’t matter as long as you can’t see them underneath navy dress whites. Ink is allowed on hands, which is fairly progressive given the general nature of military tattoo rules. They’re a little flexible about tattoos above the collar line, but for the most part, anything above the collar is a “no.”
The Army has held on to its last changes for a little longer; they were last revised in April of 2015. Mouth, ears, eyelids, hands, wrist faces (where you’d wear a watch), and the head are all prohibited locations for ink.
The Marines updated in June 2016 to say that individuals can have one finger tattoo no more than three eighths of an inch thick. No tattoos can be larger than your hand. No full or half sleeves are allowed, and the face, head, and neck are completely off limits. They do have a couple interesting rules about joints. No tattoos can be one or two inches above or below the elbow, and the same goes for knees.
The Air Force updated in March 2016 with the stipulation that less than twenty five percent of exposed skin in any uniform can be inked. Once again, the face, neck, and head are a no-go.
Lastly, the Coast Guard has held onto its tattoo regulations since August of 2009. You guessed it- the neck, head, face, and hands are forbidden. Similarly to the Air Force, the amount of tattooed skin on exposed limbs cannot exceed more than a quarter.
You might be thinking wait, but my friend is in the army with a huge cat inked on his neck. Was he serving before the regulations were published? If the image is non-offensive, the individual may be grandfathered in, ink and all. However, individuals who choose to acquire new tattoos after they are serving must adhere to guidelines. Those who don’t may be disciplined accordingly. There’s really no standard for severity of punishment. Tattoo at your own risk. Beyond that, you’d have to pay for removal at a private clinic yourself if you’re forced to have your new ink removed.
With all that said, there is one exception to the face, neck, and head rule. Cosmetic or corrective “natural looking” tattoos are allowed. The more natural, the better; if nobody can tell it’s ink, you’re off the hook.
Utilize your local recruiting office as an advocate. They’ll be able to tell you more details about exactly what is and is not acceptable in your particular situation. They can provide concrete details about exactly what each branch will allow, and what to expect throughout any visual inspection processes. Though waivers are allowed from recruiting stations, there are no guarantees.
If you already have a tattoo that violates regulations for the branch you’re hoping to join, not to worry. Fresh Start Laser Clinic is the perfect option to have your tattoo removed in preparation for your service. It’s owned by veterans, and sensitive to the needs of individuals serving on active duty and fellow vets. The clinic even goes so far as to provide twenty five percent off all services to these individuals. Services start at just thirty nine collars, and include all of the latest, safest three wavelength laser technology.
Don’t let a little ink cloud your commitment and dedication to serve your country; schedule an absolutely free consult by calling us today.