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Army Bars New Recruits With Conspicuous Tattoos

A U.S. Army soldier at Outpost Monti in Afghanistan's Kunar province, in Sept. 2011.
Tauseef Mustafa
AFP/Getty Images
A U.S. Army soldier at Outpost Monti in Afghanistan's Kunar province, in Sept. 2011.

No visible ink. That's the gist of a new regulation approved by the secretary of the Army that prohibits fresh recruits from showing tattoos while in uniform.

Josh Smith, a reporter with Stars and Stripes, says the rules on tattoos were loosened in 2006 when the Army was looking to increase recruitment.

At the time, the Army allowed "more tattoos on the hands and on the neck [as long as they] were not considered offensive or lewd or anything like that and were not overly large," Smith says, speaking with NPR's All Things Considered.

Smith tells ATC host Melissa Block that soldiers already in the Army may be grandfathered into the new rules. Even so, "all soldiers will still be barred from having any tattoos that are racist, sexist or extremist," he wrote in Stars and Stripes on Monday.

Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond Chandler, who is the Army's top enlisted soldier, told troops in Afghanistan on Monday that he expects the new regulations to go into effect in the next 30 to 60 days.

Smith wrote:

"Once the rules are implemented, soldiers will sit down with their unit leaders and 'self identify' each tattoo. Soldiers will be required to pay for the removal of any tattoo that violates the policy, Chandler said."

For new recruits, the regulation means no ink below the elbows or above the neckline.

"So, they're not looking at soldiers who are standing out because they might have a real obvious tattoo in a place that's highly visible," Smith, who spoke to some soldiers who say they're not happy about the new rules, tells NPR.

Others soldiers, he says, think "it's the Army, suck it up. If you don't like it, there's the door."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.