May 10, 2012

Opinion: Tattoos: art or unprofessional?

Cpl. Shelby Shields
Desert Warrior Staff

Over the past few decades it seems society has become more and more accepting of tattoos. This goes hand-in-hand with the younger generation’s fascination with getting tattoos the second they turn 18.

There still are some employers who won’t hire people covered in ink or require they wear long sleeves to completely cover them during the workday, but many are looking beyond the body art.

The Marine Corps, typically known for tatted up members, has begun, unlike the outside society, cracking down on tattoo regulations.

“I believe tattoos of an excessive nature do not represent our traditional values. Some have taken the liberty of tattooing themselves to a point that is contrary to our professional demeanor and the high standards America has come to expect from us,” said Gen. James T. Conway, former commandant of the Marine Corps, in a March 19, 2007 message.

In accordance with the March 2007 message, full sleeves are now prohibited, along with hand, neck, wrist, face and inside of the mouth tattoos. Quarter sleeve tattoos are acceptable as long as it cannot be seen while wearing the issued physical training gear.

Additionally, the size of any individual tattoo seen outside of PT gear cannot be larger than the Marine’s hand with fingers extended and joined and the thumb touching the base of the index finger.

The policy covers a number of other issues from band tattoos, to the nature of tattoos and many other dos and don’ts when it comes to getting a tattoo.

Luckily, those Marines who already had tattoos deemed “out of regulation” before the new policy was issued are “grandfathered” in and should not receive any unfair treatment when it comes to promotion or retention, but are ineligible for some enlisted commissioning programs.

Those of us who had plans of starting our sleeves after we joined can kiss those ideas goodbye, especially if you plan on staying in longer than one enlistment.

I understand the desire for uniformity and professionalism, it makes perfect sense and when some Marines arms are bare and others full of tattoos; we lose that uniformity, but not necessarily the professionalism.

Yes, some Marines with tattoos don’t embody the core values, some do. The same goes for Marines without tattoos. Simply because they have no ink doesn’t mean they are a perfect Marine.

But, rules are rules, and as Marines it is our responsibility to follow the rules put before us.

“A Marine with tattoos doesn’t mean you’re a bad Marine,” said Sgt. Maj. William Wiseman, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron sergeant major, in an interview in 2010. “However, since tattoos are a visual reminder of your personal thoughts, feelings and ideas, a Marine with visible tattoos may not be the best candidate for a high-profile assignment. Since the Marine Corps has the most recognizable uniform in the world, this makes the Corps a high-profile assignment. … You joined the Corps; the Corps didn’t join you.”

However, I encourage everyone to make sure to look beyond the skins surface. To many people their tattoos are art, holding extreme significance and a deeper meaning which they can carry with them forever, not an act of rebellion.

To double check if your tattoos are within regulations, check out Marine Administrative Message 29/10.

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