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Tattoo rules delay Army's update to standards

Dec. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A combat engineer shows off the engineer castle tattooed on his chest. The tattoo policy has delayed changes to the Army's appearance standards.
A combat engineer shows off the engineer castle tattooed on his chest. The tattoo policy has delayed changes to the Army's appearance standards. ()
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More than two years ago, the Army announced it was reviewing the appearance standards laid out in Army Regulation 670-1.

But the decision on changes to the reg has been delayed several times.

Army Times asked Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno what the holdup is.

“Tattoos,” he said.

Changes to the appearance standards were first called for by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler in October 2011. Chandler expressed concern about grooming, off post civilian attire, earrings, fingernails — and, above all, tattoos.

“I think the tattoo policy is a little loose,” he told Army Times. “The Army is a profession, and we need to relook [at] the tattoo policy. I don’t like tattoos on the neck where they are visible. If they’re not visible and they’re covered up, I think that’s a soldier’s prerogative.”

The tattoo policy was relaxed in 2006 to allow tattoos of any size or form on hands as long as they are not racist, sexist, extremist or offensive. Soldiers may also have tattoos on the backs of their necks. Female soldiers can have permanent makeup.

Chandler’s remarks set off a firestorm of opposition within the ranks, from soldiers who said tattoos are as much a part of the Army as MREs and ACUs.

Evidently, the complaints got the ear of Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh. The result has been a slowdown of the changes.

“We’re just looking at that one last time,” Odierno told Army Times. “We want to make sure [the new rule] makes sense in terms of [consistency] with other services. We want to be consistent with societal norms today.

“We have to look at what the societal norms are,” he added. “And so it’s changed. There’s more tattoos than there were five years ago. And there’s a hell of a lot more than there were 10 years ago.”

Odierno said the review is almost complete, and that he will soon announce “a policy that respects the discipline that we need in the Army but also understands the societal norms that are out there.”

“We’re about ready,” he said.

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