Army tattoo rules mean fewer recruits

CHICAGO — Uncle Sam still wants you — just not as heavily inked.

More than three months after the Army implemented a more stringent tattoo policy, recruiters say they are the ones feeling the pinch.

“It certainly makes our job a little more challenging,” said Staff Sgt. Carrington Oliver of the South Holland recruiting station.

The new regulations, which went into effect around April 1, mean turning away about 10 to 12 potential recruits at his office each month, Oliver said.

Still, he endorsed the changes. “It’s all about projecting a more professional image.”

The tighter rules ban body art on the head, face, neck, wrists, hands and fingers. Soldiers are allowed a maximum of four visible tattoos below the elbow or knee, but they must be smaller than the wearer’s hand, which means that “sleeves” are also prohibited. (Extremist, sexist and racist tattoos have always been taboo.)

The Army now has the toughest tattoo policy of all the branches of service. It’s not the first time that the top brass has turned thumbs down on being overly tatted up, said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

However, after the 9/11 attacks, when more recruits were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army took a more lenient stance — and the inkwell flowed with abandon.

But the Army decided it was time to reassess. Existing soldiers who are non-compliant with the revised policy are grandfathered in.

“Any time you make something tougher, you’re going to see a reaction. But, ultimately, it’s more rewarding because we’re bringing on board the highest quality soldiers possible,” Hall said.

The new policy is included in the Army’s publication on proper appearance in uniform. The 56-page publication spells out every possible fad and fashion — from tongue bifurcation to ear gauging to dental ornamentation (all of which are outlawed).

In South Holland, military hopefuls typically respond by promising to have their conspicuous body art removed, Oliver said. “They are very motivated … and say they’ll be back after having them removed.”

At Advanced Dermatology in Lincolnshire, Steve Prus, a physician’s assistant, is treating one potential recruit who is deleting the oversized art from his forearm. Laser removal can cost $400 to $600 and take anywhere from 5 to 15 sessions, depending on the size.

The tattoo being removed?

His mother’s name.

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