In its efforts to compete for top talent, the U.S. Army has updated its regulations for tattoos, cutting processing times for new recruits who have the body art.
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth made it official June 23, 2022, by signing the updated directive that allows recruits and current Soldiers to receive tattoos on their hands, the back of their ears and the back of their necks.
The Army will now allow Soldiers to have one tattoo on each hand that does not exceed one inch in length. Soldiers also have the option to place one tattoo no larger than two inches on the back of their neck and one, inch-long tattoo behind each ear. Additionally, tattoos can be impressed between fingers as long as the designs cannot be seen when the fingers are closed.
Previously, recruits who had tattoos in these areas had to file waiver exceptions and sometimes had to wait weeks before they could be processed into service.
“We always review policy to keep the Army as an open option to as many people as possible who want to serve,” said Maj. Gen. Doug Stitt, Director of Military Personnel Management. “This directive makes sense for currently serving Soldiers and allows a greater number of talented individuals the opportunity to serve now.”
The Army will continue to prohibit tattoos on a Soldier’s face and the body art will continue to be allowed on a Soldier’s arms and legs as long as they do not become visible above a Soldier’s collar. Soldiers may not cover up tattoos with bandages or wrappings to comply with the regulation.
Sgt. Maj. Ashleigh Sykes, uniform policy sergeant major, said that a Soldier may choose to get tattoos for a wide range of reasons. Some see tattoos as form of creativity while others can get tattoos for religious reasons.
“Everyone has a different reason for getting a tattoo,” said Sykes who has tattoos herself. “Some see it as art, some see it as individuality, and some may even have cultural tattoos. Tattoos are more [accepted] now; it’s a change in society.”
Through May, Army recruiters have filed more than 650 waivers in 2022 for active duty and reserve recruits said David Andrews, Army Training and Doctrine Command enlisted chief.
Andrews said that tattoos have grown in popularity among younger people. According to research by TRADOC, 41% of 18 to 34 year olds have at least one or more tattoos. The Army originally began allowing Soldiers to have tattoos in 2015, granting more freedom for individual expression.
Sykes added that the waivers, which can take up to 14 days impacts the recruiting process because potential recruits who previously had tattoos in restricted areas could have decided to enlist in another military branch. He said that the Navy and the Marines have less restrictive tattoo policies.
Army Recruiting Command and TRADOC recommended the changes to Army senior leaders.
“Some may change their mind or go to a different service,” Sykes said. “[Or] they just didn’t want to wait anymore.”
According to the directive, tattoo designs must not contain any offensive, extremist or hateful words or images. Company commanders perform annual inspections of tattoos so that the tattoos remain within Army regulations.
Soldiers who have tattoos that do not meet the service’s restrictions will be counseled. They will then have 15 days to explain to commanders whether they will have the tattoos removed or altered. Soldiers who do not comply could potentially face separation.
While facial tattoos remain prohibited, Sykes said that some Soldiers may file for an exception if they would like to receive a facial tattoo for religious reasons. Previously, the service only allowed ring tattoos on hands.
“[The directive] gives us the opportunity to put people in [the Army] right away that have these types of tattoos,” Andrews said. “We don’t want people walking away from opportunities in the Army who are otherwise qualified.”
The Army relaxed restrictions on tattoos in 2015 when the service updated Army Regulation 670-1 to remove limits on the number of tattoos Soldiers could have on legs and arms. Andrews said the limits on tattoos impacted the Army’s ability to recruit top talent.
Several Soldiers have stated that the change allowed them to join the Army including Army Ranger, Staff Sgt. Matthew Hagensick a Madison, Wisc., native who sports many tattoos on his arms.
Hagensick enlisted in the Army after the service updated the regulation in 2015 and he later went on to win the 2018 Soldier of the Year contest.