Over the past decade, the U.S. Army has turned a blind eye to soldiers sporting visible tattoos. Seems that if the military really needs you to risk your life in Iraq or Afghanistan, it tolerates the body art crawling up your neck or down your legs. But with those wars winding down, tattoos are being dishonorably discharged, so to speak.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said that ink visible below the elbows or knees or above the neck will be forbidden for new soldiers. Existing tattoos may be grandfathered in, after a conversation with a supervisor that includes getting advice about how to remove them on the soldier's nickel.
For the record, Army Regulation 670-1 already prohibits tattoos anywhere on the head, face and neck above the class A uniform collar -- as well as anything considered extremist, indecent, sexist or racist. So the only thing new here is the Army's intention to actually enforce things.
Nevertheless, I'm giving this one a 21-gun salute. I'm of the generation that associates tattoos with people who served time in prison and Nazis who tattooed my relatives in concentration camps as a nifty way of keeping track of them. Some impressions just don't go away.
Yes, I know body art is in vogue these days and 23 percent of Americans have tattoos, according to a Pew Research poll from 2010. I also know that not all of them are silly teenagers who think a tat makes them look cool; 32 percent of people ages 30 to 45 sport at least one piece of body art. The way I read that is: 77 percent of us don't have tattoos. Me? I look at those delicate flowers on the perky breasts of young women I see at the beach and keep imagining a nursing home filled with drooping roses.
And say what you will, but there are also certain work sectors where tats are considered undesirable, if not downright inappropriate. The New York Times reported that 61 percent of human-resource managers surveyed by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania in 2012 said a tattoo would hurt a job applicant's chances, up from 57 percent in 2011. So no, not everybody loves them even if Lena Dunham does.
Soldiers, at least those on Military.com, also seem to be quite fond of their ink -- I get that too. And I totally get the seeming unfairness of ignoring the policies while the military wanted to enhance its ranks while wars were being fought. The initial reactions among the soldiers -- at least those online -- has been largely negative. The obvious question many ask is how a tattoo can possibly impact their ability to do the job. Others point out that tattoos are a huge part of the Army's own culture, with many soldiers decorating their bodies with memorials to fallen comrades.
But at the end of the day, I am still shouting Hallelujah. Tattoos look unprofessional. Chandler said tightening the "grooming code" was an attempt to recognize soldiers' individual achievements rather than having them stand out for their appearance.
The Army had me at "looking professional." Tattoos went mainstream long after I started putting orthotics in my comfort shoes, and I sit firmly entrenched in the generation who think they can create a bad first impression -- with us and with citizens of other nations who they encounter. Sure styles have changed and you can deface your body however you see fit. But for our soldiers representing our country, I'd rather you proclaim that you were "born to be wild" under your shirt sleeves.
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