Short answer, Yes.

Well, actually, it depends.

But one thing I can assure you is that the US Army is not that strict anymore when it comes to body art. In fact, just recently, the Army disseminated an updated directive on its Soldier Tattoos Policy, including current soldiers who are contemplating getting one and those aspiring applicants who already have tattoos or branding.

Easing on soldier tattoo policies in the Army

Last June, Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth signed Army Directive (AD) 2022-09 “that allows recruits and current soldiers to receive tattoos on their hands, the back of their ears, and the back of their necks.”

This means that the processing time for recruits with existing body art will now be lessened, and they will have a better chance of getting their applications approved. Previously, these aspirants had to file waiver exceptions that could sometimes take weeks and affect their application to the service altogether.

Tattoos are undeniably popular—especially among late teens and young adults. So to allow top able-bodied applicants to serve in the Army, the Army began allowing soldiers to have tattoos. However, the requirement to file a waiver, which can take up to 14 days, hampered recruitment “because potential recruits who previously had tattoos in restricted areas may have decided to enlist in another military branch,” according to David Andrews, Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) enlisted chief.

According to Andrews, as of May, Army recruiters had already filed over 650 waivers for active duty and reserve recruits who have tattoos on their skin.

The lengthy wait for the waiver also discouraged recruits, who instead chose to join other military branches, such as the Navy and the Marines, which have less stringent tattoo policies.

“[The directive] gives us the opportunity to put people in [the Army] right away that have these types of tattoos,” Andrews said. “We don’t want people walking away from opportunities in the Army who are otherwise qualified.”

Latest update on the tattoo policy

The new directive, according to Maj. Gen. Doug Stitt, Director of Military Personnel Management, will keep the Army open to as many talented individuals as possible who want to serve under the branch.

The AD 2022-09 amended the tattoo policy on body placement in particular. See below for the following changes, including:

 

(1) Under the new directive, the Army will now allow one visible tattoo on each hand (including the palm), but not to exceed one inch in measurement in all directions; an unlimited number of tattoos between the fingers as long as they are not visible when the fingers are closed; as well as one ring tattoo on each hand.

(2) For the nape tattoos (back of the neck), the Army will only allow one that will not exceed two inches in measurement in all directions. Meanwhile, head and face tattoos remain prohibited—except for permanent makeup tattoos in accordance with AR 670-1, paragraph 3-2b (2)—as well as inside the eyelids, mouth, and ears. Regardless, the authorization remains for soldiers who have a tattoo validation memorandum.

(3) Lastly, the Army will allow one tattoo behind each ear, not to exceed one inch in measurement in all directions and without extending forward of the ear lobe.

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Prohibitions regarding certain types of tattoos or brands remain in effect as stated in AR 670-1, paragraph 3-3—including extremist tattoos, indecent tattoos, sexist tattoos, and racist tattoos, to name a few.

Army commanders will perform an annual check for body art placement above the neckline, wrists, and hands to ensure that these guidelines are followed. Those who are found to have unauthorized tattoos will be processed accordingly (refer to paragraphs 3-3f (1-2) of AR 670-1 for more information regarding the violation and penalty).

Soldiers who bear tattoos relating to religion may submit a waiver request to Army regulations “by providing justification that includes a full analysis of the expected benefits and must include a formal review by the activity’s senior legal officer,” which will then be endorsed by the commander or senior leader and forwarded it through their higher headquarters to the policy proponent (see more in Table P-1, page 189 here).

In 2015, the Army relaxed its tattoo policy, allowing recruits with a certain number of tattoos on their legs and arms to join. However, tattooccording to Andrews, tattoos have hampered the Army’s ability to recruit top talent, which is supported by TRADOC research findings that “41 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds have at least one or more tattoos.”

tattoo-policy-in-the-army
Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey tackles the Army’s tattoo policy during a town hall meeting at the All American Chapel in Fort Bragg, N.C., back in March 2015. (Photo source: US Army/Sgt. Taryn Hagerman/DVIDS)

(Source: US Army News Service)