Tattoos have long been a popular accessory to U.S. military uniforms. This form of body art often pays tribute to fallen comrades, shows devotion to loved ones who are thousands of miles away or highlights one’s national pride. New United States Army regulations issued on March 31st set forth new grooming and appearance standards for soldiers. While the rule covers a number of appearance issues including hairstyles, fingernails, jewelry and glasses, it appears that the tattoo clause is attracting the most attention and scrutiny from civilians and service members alike. Under the new regulations, a soldier may not have a tattoo below his knee or elbow or above the neckline.
While current soldiers are grandfathered in, new members would have to pay for removal before joining. Many military analysts suspect the move is to cut down on the number of people enlisting in an effort to reach pre 09/11/01 numbers when the military saw a major surge in men and women joining the armed forces.
Current soldiers with now prohibited body ink cannot be discharged for tattoos they already had prior to the new rule but they are banned from seeking a promotion to warrant office or commissioning as an officer. A Kentucky National Guard soldier has filed a $100 million dollar lawsuit against the Army after he was banned from being promoted to a Special Operations unit because he has tattoos covering his left arm between his elbow and wrist. Staff Sgt. Adam C. Thorogood of Nashville is hopeful that a federal judge will overturn the military’s new regulations on the grounds that they prohibit one’s freedom of speech and are ultimately unconstitutional. The attorneys for Thorogood also argue that the regulation cannot legally change the consequences or status of actions that were committed before the enactment of the law so his client, and all current soldiers, should not have their futures and dreams of promotion adversely impacted.
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III has defended the new regulations, stating “The Army is a profession, and one of the ways our leaders and the American public measure our professionalism is by our appearance.”
The Army isn’t the only military branch that has regulations on tattoos. In fact since 2006, the Navy Coast Guard and Marines have all issued various restrictions on body ink. The Army has long banned offensive tattoos which are sexist, racist or extremist. This ban remains in effect despite the changes.
While Commanders cannot order the removal of a tattoo if a soldier violates the new guidelines, he or she can recommend that the violating party seek medical advice about the removal of the tattoo. If a soldier refuses to have the tattoo removed, he or she may be discharged although at this time, it’s not clear what type of discharge will be granted.
If you are a soldier charged with violating the new regulations, or found to have an indecent or offensive tattoo which must be removed to stay in uniform, it’s important that you have experienced legal counsel on your side. Attorney Ryan Coward has assisted countless service members and veterans in Denver and throughout the world. Contact him for a free consultation by calling 303-567-7981.