In a move sure to make the skin crawl on millions of young adults, the U.S. Army has declared war—on tattoos. According to the service’s official newspaper, Stars and Stripes, new rules are coming that will restrict where soldiers can place tattoos. The new policy will prohibit tattoos below the elbows and knees or above the neckline. Soldiers with tattoos in one of these newly-taboo areas will have to self-identify their offensive tattoo and have it grandfathered in. The rules tighten up relatively loose rules on soldiers’ tattoos that have been in place since 2006. Army Regulation 670-1, which governs soldiers’ use of make-up and tattoos, will change to reflect the new policy, which presently only prohibits tattoos on the head, face and neck. The move is expected to enhance the image and uniformity of the men and women in uniform.
But at what cost? According to statisticsbrain.com (drawing from a Pew Center for Research study), 36% of Americans between the ages of 18-25 have tattoos. Anyone who’s spent time recently at a community college or urban dance club instantly understands that tats, for better or worse, are fashionable. There are more than 500,000 men and women on active duty in the U.S. Army and another 350,000 in the reserves. It is a good guess that hundreds of thousands of these people have a tat somewhere already. Certainly, the majority of the musicians and athletes they most admire have tats. The Army has a long tradition of forcing discipline and conformity on large numbers of young people who might naturally tend toward ill-discipline and non-conformity. But the decision to tighten the reins on tats could quickly turn into a self-inflicted wound when the Army has to turn away thousands of otherwise qualified recruits next year.