Military News

August 15, 2014

For some recruits, Army eases its hard line on tattoos

Exceptions will be granted to prevent otherwise qualified people from being kept out of the Army because of new restrictions on certain tattoos, said the head of the Army recruiting headquarters at Fort Knox, Ky.

So you want to join the Army but can’t because of that tattoo you got on your neck when you were younger and stupid.

How to remove it? With a waiver, of course.

The head of the Army recruiting headquarters at Fort Knox, Ky., stressed that point Thursday during a visit to Kansas City. To prevent otherwise qualified people from being kept out of the Army because of new restrictions on certain tattoos, the Army wants to make clear that exceptions will be granted.

In an interview with The Star, Maj. Gen. Allen W. Batschelet addressed a May report in the newspaper that found area recruiters losing enlistments because of a just-implemented policy banning large tattoos on the forearms, calves, hands and neck.

“It’s rather arbitrary, in some sense,” Batschelet said of the tougher policy. “But you have to draw the line somewhere” for the Army to present what he called a “professional” image.

“Does it have implications for recruiting? Sure does. There’s no doubt about that.”

The Army and other military branches have long applied restrictions on lewd, offensive or gang-related tattoos. But since the stricter recruiting rule took effect in the spring, “at the rate we’re turning kids away, we think we’ll lose what would have been 2,500 enlistments over the course of the year,” Batschelet said. “And those are quality applicants.”

To mitigate the losses, the Army is encouraging recruiters to remind prospective soldiers how they can seek waivers on issues that technically disqualify people from enlisting.

And Batschelet would be part of that process.

As commanding general at the national recruiting headquarters, it’s his job to endorse or deny applications for waivers before they’re sent to the Pentagon for approval.

That means reviewing close-up photos of a hopeful recruit’s body signage. Batschelet said that in the last month his office endorsed 45 waiver requests from hundreds nationwide involving disqualifying tattoos.

“To be blunt, the higher quality of applicant you are, the more tolerance we’d probably have for seeking a waiver,” Batschelet said. “If you came in to sign up today and were a neurosurgeon, I’ve got to tell you I’d go a long way toward trying to get an exception if all you had was a disqualifying tattoo.”

What is “disqualifying,” by the book?

The revamped Army Regulation 670-1 sets perhaps the strictest rules on tattoos of all the military branches. It limits the size and number of tattoos visible when a recruit is in uniform or exercising in shorts and a T-shirt.

The rule prohibits recruits from having more than four tattoos beneath their elbows and knees. Images must be small enough to be covered by the wearer’s hand. “Band” tattoos, like a coil of barbed wire around the arm, shall be no more than 2 inches wide.

And there shall be no displays stretching above the neck collar or below the wrist.

Previously authorized tattoos worn by soldiers already serving are grandfathered in. For those soldiers’ future protection, their unit commanders “will document each tattoo/brand in an official memorandum,” the rule requires.

“We recognize it’s a societal trend for people to have tattoos,” Batschelet said, which is why he wanted the message out that minor violations of the new rules can be overlooked for recruits if no other disqualifying factors apply.

He referred to an area woman in The Star’s article who was disqualified from Army service for having an engagement band tattooed on her ring finger.

“We have educated recruiters now that in instances like that, even though technically disqualifying, there is a process to request exceptions. And we are granting those,” he said.

Batschelet was in town to attend a leadership conference at Fort Leavenworth. His comments on tattoos came a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a relaxing of rules across the military against dreadlocks, cornrows and other hairstyles favored by many women serving.

Some fashion rules, including limits on hairstyles, are necessary to ensure safety for troops who need their helmets and gas masks to fit properly, Batschelet said.

The major general added that the Army will remain vigilant in disqualifying people whose tattoos express hate or are overly sexual in nature. Recruits also aren’t likely to get in wearing grandiose “sleeve” tattoos running the length of the arm, he said.

“From an appearance perspective, it is less than professional if you see a soldier standing in uniform and they have a lightning bolt that shoots up the back of their head and around their ear.”

Roger that.

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