New Army Tattoo Rules Won't Affect Already-Inked Soldiers

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The U.S. Army is about to have tighter restrictions on tattoos for new recruits and for current soldiers. Visible tattoos, ones below the knees, below the elbows, or above the neckline will not be permitted for enlistees, but soldiers with these kinds of tattoos are grandfathered in. Soldier will have to pay to have tattoos that are deemed racist, sexist, or extremist removed. Melissa Block speaks with Josh Smith, the Afghanistan correspondent for Stars and Stripes for more details.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Attention, potential Army recruits: If you have tattoos on your feet, calves, hands, forearms or around your neck, Uncle Sam apparently does not want you. The secretary of the Army is expected to sign strict, new rules about body art. ]>

Joining me to talk about the new rules is Josh Smith. He's written about this for "Stars and Stripes." Josh, how is the Army explaining why these new restrictions are going to be put into effect?

JOSH SMITH: Well, the Army officials that have worked on these rules, and that are proposing them, put them in the context of professionalism within the Army; kind of raising the bar both as far as, you know, the work and the ethic of the soldiers but also the way they present themselves. So very much in the same way that soldiers are expected to dress the same way - in uniforms - and groom themselves the same way - with similar haircuts - Army officials are basically expecting them to look more similar as far as what's on their body as well.

And so they're not looking for soldiers that are standing out because they might have a real obvious tattoo in a place that's highly visible.

BLOCK: And are these rules that were in place before that were then loosened and now they're being tightened again?

SMITH: So the Army, for a long time, has allowed tattoos on areas, for example, like the leg and the forearm that are covered by the typical Army uniform. Rules, however, were loosened in 2006 after the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq, when the Army was looking to increase the number of soldiers.

And that was loosened to allow more tattoos on the hands and on the neck. Again, ones that were not considered offensive or lewd or anything like that and were not overly large. At the same time, the rules about on the forearms and on the legs stretch back farther than that and so this is taking it quite farther than it has been in the past.

BLOCK: Josh, you're talking with us from Afghanistan. And I wonder if you've been talking with soldiers there and hearing any thoughts from them on how they feel about the new policy on tattoos.

SMITH: I have talked to a few. Tattoos definitely have a long history in the military and in the Army and they often mean a lot, personally, to soldiers in a way that may not always be the case in the civilian world. For example, soldiers, it's not uncommon for them to put symbols from their units or as the wars have dragged on, often will have tattoos in memorial of fallen fellow soldiers.

And so a lot of them view this in a rather negative light, basically saying, you know, don't judge a book by its cover. People love tattoos. They're not any less professional, not any less capable soldiers. On the other side, I've also heard from soldiers who say, you know, suck it up. This is what you got in the military to do. If you have a problem with it, there's the door.

BLOCK: Josh Smith is a correspondent for Stars and Stripes. He's based in Afghanistan. We were talking about the Army's new rules on tattoos. Josh, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you.

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