The Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) just outside Las Vegas has allowed the first-ever tattoo parlor on a military base, Military Times was the first to report. The United States Air Force has joined the 21st century, and the other services should wake up and take notice.

This makes sense since now it will be much more convenient for troops on the base to get a tattoo without having to go all the way downtown. (Nellis is 12.5 miles from the Vegas Strip). It also ensures that military personnel will be going to a clean environment that will not produce tattoos which could potentially violate the service’s existing regulations or standards. (It will also probably be a tad cheaper than what they’d pay down on the strip.) And Nellis is getting ready to open a second one soon.

Tattooing among sailors and warriors dates back about 5,000 years to the time of Maori tribesmen in New Zealand. It was a sign of strength and of belonging. 

Nevertheless, tattoos used to be taboo for the military services and were extremely frowned upon, especially for officers. The exception was the Navy. At the turn of the century, enlisted sailors — especially those who sailed in the Pacific and traveled to the Orient — made tattooing commonplace. It was reported that after World War I, approximately 90 percent of sailors had a tattoo. However, tattoos weren’t mainstream in society and were considered unprofessional.

Ironically, one former sailor-turned tattoo artist, Norman Keith Collins, best known by his professional name, Sailor Jerry is now world-famous for his traditional tattoo designs known as “flash.” These can be found in nearly every tattoo shop in the world

Air Force officer’s full-sleeved tattoo. (Military Times photo)

As tattoos became much more common, acceptable, and mainstream they also became much more popular among troops from all services. Indeed, the full-sleeved variety became common. But still, the military was stuck in the puritanical era where body art was disapproved of. 

Yet things started to change. The Army began a short-lived and short-sighted policy that limited soldiers to four tattoos below the elbow or knee. None could be bigger than the wearer’s hand. About five years ago, it finally changed its policy: removing limits on the size or number of tattoos soldiers could have. The Army finally acknowledged that society now considers tattoos mainstream.

“Society is changing its view of tattoos, and we have to change along with that,” then Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said. “It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that.”