Army considers tightening tattoo policy

Kymmi Flack works on a tattoo for Army Spc. Miguel Perez at New Image Tattoo. The Army is considering a policy that would prohibit new recruits from having tattoos below the elbows and knees or above the neckline.

 

Gus Richardson, a tattoo artist in south Augusta, inscribed a girl’s name and birthdate on the forearm of a Fort Gordon soldier at his Wrightsboro Road parlor.

The body art was a way for the soldier to remember his daughter while away from home, but in the next 30 to 60 days, it might not be allowed by the Army.

The Army is proposing a policy that would ban new recruits from having tattoos below the elbows and knees or above the neckline. Soldiers who already have tattoos will be exempt from the law, unless they contain racist, sexist or extremist content, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler said.

The proposal has spurred many soldiers to get tattoos inked before the new rules take effect, area artists said this week.

“Most of the soldiers keep their tattoos within the guidelines of the new regulations, but lately some are coming in asking for artwork on their forearms,” Richardson said. “They want the tattoos to be grandfathered in if the new policy passes.”

Under the proposed regulation, soldiers will be required to sit down with their unit leaders and “self-identify” each tattoo.

If any artwork violates the rules, soldiers must pay for the removal.

Fort Gordon Sgt. Francis Robertson, a member of the Army’s 35th Signal Brigade, has a tattoo on both forearms and said he believes the proposed policy is “highly ridiculous” and an example of profiling.

“I don’t understand why a person may not be allowed to serve their country because they want a tattoo on a certain part of their body,” said Robertson, who has his name etched on one arm and the name of his first-born son on the other, to remind him of the reason he serves.

Robertson estimates that about 85 percent of the members of the 35th Signal Brigade have tattoos, many in places that may be off-limits in the future.

“To many soldiers, a tattoo is a part of their personality, an outward expression of where they are headed in life. It does not hinder their ability to serve,” Robertson said. “The Army wants a universal soldier that looks and sounds the same, but it needs to realize everyone is different and that is what makes the service special.”

Spc. Kimberly Pierce, of the 35th Signal Brigade, said she is considering getting a tattoo on her upper arm.

“I do not think it is fair that tattoos are brought up as a daily subject,” Pierce said of the proposed rule change. “As long as a soldier completes his or her mission, why does it matter what is on their body and where?”

Pierce said she believes some fellow soldiers go overboard with body art, but said others have images that are meaningful to them.

“A lot of people get tattoos out of respect for a person or place that motivates them to succeed,” said Pierce, who wants a tattoo to honor her late grandmother.

Local artists said the possible change is boosting sales, and they do not expect it to cause any strain on their businesses in the future. They said soldiers typically get tattoos in areas that can easily be covered, such as the back, upper arms rib cage.

“Mainly for employment purposes, soldiers like to get tattoos in places they can easily be hidden,” said Christian Perkins, a senior artist at Dermographic Productions.

Perkins said the Wrightsboro Road shop has been open 13 years and estimated between 25 percent and 35 percent of its customers are from Fort Gordon, many of them older soldiers who are heavily tattooed.

“I do not know if it (the change) will affect us. We kind of have to roll with the punches,” Perkins said. “When someone signs up for the military, they basically belong to the U.S. government and whatever it says, goes.”

Richardson, who estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of his clients are from Fort Gordon, said he believes the new rule could be a good thing, especially among the younger soldiers.

“They’re not going to be in the Army forever,” he said. “One day they might need to get a real job and not every employer wants to see tattoos in visible places.”

Richardson said he thinks any employer has the right to regulate tattoos, because employees are an extension of a company’s image.

However, until the Army passes the rule, he said he will continue to give soldiers tattoos, out of respect for their right to express themselves.

“That’s what it is all about,” he said.

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