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Corps Realigns Tattoo Policy

Corps realigns tattoo policy
Sgt. Lucien Lewis, a career planner with Headquarters Marine Corps, poses to show the tattoos on his arms. As a career planner, Lewis provides guidance to Marines about future job prospects and how tattoos may hamper those opportunities.

Maintaining high standards of military appearance is a pillar in the Corps’ history that has distinguished Marines for more than two centuries. Today, as the tattoo trend continues, the Corps still strongly supports the notion that excessive tattoos detract from the professional appearance expected of a Marine.

The guidance issued by the commandant is not intended to discourage Marines from decorating their bodies. However, it informs Marines how to stay in compliance while ensuring that no tattoos are of a nature that would bring discredit upon the Marine Corps.

“We have realized that we needed to provide more amplifying guidance to clear up questions our Marines have about the existing policy to allow them more opportunities within the Corps and once they leave the service,” Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, sergeant major of the Marine Corps said.

The overall intent of the policy is to ensure Marines can remain worldwide assignable, by maintain the professional demeanor and high standards expected of the Corps. Additionally, the commandant wants to inform Marines that tattoos can negatively impact their future career goals, especially if that involves law enforcement.

“Marines are recognized around the world because of our high standards of military bearing and appearance,” Kent said. “We want Marines to set the example and be assignable to any billet, in any location.”

The policy seeks to balance the personal desires of Marines with their responsibility to set the example and present a sharp military appearance.

“Tattoos of an excessive nature do not represent our traditional values and are contrary to our professional demeanor and the high standards America has come to expect from us,” said Maj. Shawn D. Haney, public affairs officer, Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, Va.

Corps realigns tattoo policy

Cpl. Nick Jason, an assistant section leader with Company D, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, displays the tattoo he got in memory of his friends and fellow Marines who were killed in action during combat operations in Iraq.

Marine Administrative Message 029/10, released Jan. 15, clarifies past and current policies. It prohibits sexist, racist, eccentric, vulgar or otherwise offensive tattoos. Tattoos that express an association with illegal drugs, anti-American content or affiliation to any extremist group or organization are also prohibited.

The policy also prohibits tattoos on the head, neck, hands, fingers and wrists as well as full, half and quarter sleeves visible in the standard physical training uniform.

Individual tattoos visible in the PT uniform will be no larger than the wearer’s hand, and officers will be limited to a maximum of four tattoos visible in the PT uniform.

Marines with grandfathered sleeves have no restrictions for reenlistment or promotion. However, they are no longer eligible for any enlisted-to-officer program, recruiting duty or Marine Security Guard duty.

“Marines need to understand the intent of the policy and the specific guidance that is published so that they can make an informed decision before getting a tattoo,” Kent said.

The tattoo policy is in place to deter Marines from excessive tattooing, which can hinder their future career opportunities in the Corps or as civilians.

“As we adjust our policy on tattoos so are many civilian agencies,” said Kent. “I have met with many former Marines who told me they could not even get a job at a fast food restaurant because of their tattoos.”

Recently, a team at Headquarters Marine Corps conducted research on state police and highway patrol tattoo policies. All 50 state police or patrol departments were contacted about their respective tattoo policies. Overall, 39 states have official written policies covering tattoos and body art or modifications, as well as other personal appearance standards.

Former Marine, John Beekman, is a 16-year-veteran detective in Chandler, Ariz. He advises service members to consider their future career choices before getting new ink.

“Keep in mind the tattoo itself; the type, size, and [location on your body] – how will it affect you later?” said Beekman. “When you’re young and motivated you’re not thinking about the future. But, one day you will get out of the Marine Corps and perception is reality. The general public is going to look a person with [excessive] tattoos and make an immediate judgment. “

Beekman attests to the fact that many law enforcement agencies are also pulling in the reins on excessive tattoos.

“Our department policy on tattoos states that if visible while working in an official capacity, all tattoos must be covered,” he said. “This policy became permanent in 2008.”

“As of this date, no applicants have been turned away simply for excessive tattoos. However, if an applicant has visible tattoos that are deemed inappropriate, or those visible tattoos that cannot be covered must be eliminated if the applicant wishes to be hired.”

The Chandler Police Department, along with many departments across the nation agree with the Corps’ tattoo policy standards prohibiting tattoos that are offensive to a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The driving force behind the amplification of the tattoo policy is to ensure that Marines can prosper no matter what career path they choose.

“The success of our Marines during their career, as well as afterward, is important,” Kent said.

Although many may not agree with the policy, all Marines must adhere to it.

“Tattoos are one of the bonds we have as Marines, [but] setting the standard has always been our job,” said Sgt. Stephen B. Dolo, an anti-tank missileman currently serving as the assistant training chief for Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps.

Marines not in compliance with this policy should have their tattoos grandfathered via the appropriate channels within their chain of command by June 1.”

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  • GRUNT

     - OFF. Let grown men get what they want. Too much micromanagement.

  • The Gunny

     I’m a retired Marine Gunny. My son wanted to transfer from the Air Guard to the Marines. He is in awesome shape and could smoke most of the Drill Instructors that worked for me. He would be a tremendous asset to the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, while serving in the Guard he got a small tattoo on the inside portion of his wrist. Therefore, he cannot join the Marines and a family tradition has ended for no good reason. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps sponsors the NBA on TNT and UFC, two sports with athletes who have excessive tattoos about their heads, faces, necks, arms and other places that the Marine Corps finds unacceptable. And, somewhere now at MCRD San Diego and PI are a group of recruits that are overweight, can’t pass the initial PFT and are certain to return to their bad habits after graduation and be a drag on leadership, many of which will eventually get kicked out for being fat bodies; good thing they don’t have small tattoos on the inside of the wrists though. This doesn’t make good sense and limits recruiters from enlisting the best applicants, therefore weakening our Corps. I have just thrown in the BS flag. I ask that all active duty Marine leaders address this issue respectfully via their chain of command. You can affect change. Tattoos are more socially accepted today than ever and it makes no sense that they should prevent the Marine Corps from enlisting the best applicants, especially at a time when Marines are serving in combat. We owe it to our Marines to have the best serving with them while in harms way.

  • The Gunny

    I’m a retired Gunny. My son wanted to transfer from the Air Guard to the Marines. He is in awesome shape and could smoke most of the Drill Instructors that worked for me. He would be a tremendous asset to the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, while serving in the Guard he got a small tattoo on the inside portion of his wrist. Therefore, he cannot join the Marines and a family tradition has ended for no good reason. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps sponsors the NBA on TNT and UFC, two sports with athletes who have excessive tattoos about their heads, faces, necks, arms and other places that the Marine Corps finds unacceptable. And, somewhere now at MCRD San Diego and PI are a group of recruits that are overweight, can’t pass the initial PFT and are certain to return to their bad habits after graduation and be a drag on leadership, many of which will eventually get kicked out for being fat bodies; good thing they don’t have small tattoos on the inside of the wrists though. This doesn’t make good sense and limits recruiters from enlisting the best applicants, therefore weakening our Corps. I have just thrown in the BS flag. I ask that all active duty Marine leaders address this issue respectfully via their chain of command. You can affect change. Tattoos are more socially accepted today than ever and it makes no sense that they should prevent the Marine Corps from enlisting the best applicants, especially at a time when Marines are serving in combat. We owe it to our Marines to have the best serving with them while in harms way.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5CONXDBZTVSTNBTYN2AXEPJM4A Buddy

    A friend of mine has always wanted to be a Marine. She made the mistake of getting a tattoo on her neck and now is up a creek.
    Dose anyone know of low cost/free removal for military applicants??  

  • Jennifer Morrison

    I am a very proud mother of a US Marine. I have some concerns regarding the possible negative impact tats will have on my son’s future employment.  However, I know many professionals: policemen/women, physicians, lawyers, teachers, etc. that have tattoos and many are visible at their place of employment.
    I appreciate the Corp’s concern for future employment opportunities; on the other hand, the USMC in the above article stated tats have been and still are one of the ‘bonds’ Marines have.  Why is it now being made such a big deal?    Although I am not interested in tattoos, whose business is but my own?  This is the ‘Land of the free, the home of the Brave’ thanks to you courageous servicemen and women that have sacrificed so much to protect us and our freedom. Five of my eight brothers served in various branches; four uncles and my father-in-law served (3 in the Korean War).  Six were sporting tattoos.My son has tattoos but I’ve got a flash for those who think he got them to broadcast to the world:  “Look at me!  I served in the USMC and I’m so cool; and by the way, I love my mother, and check out the Angel on my sleeve!”  He could care less whether folks see them!  It is not his style!!!  The tattoos have a meaning to him.  This is a young man who, at the ripe old age of 12, met me at the door the afternoon of September 11, 2001.  He was so upset, outraged that anyone dare attack the citizens of the United States!  He wanted to sign up immediately to fight for his country, refusing to accept my explanation that he was too young.  Now, does that sound like a ‘braggart’ or an extremely patriotic young man?!

  • Ghost

       @Billy Ray and Gunny R.
    While I agree you don’t need a tattoo to be ‘badass’, there is nothing wrong with them.  The new policy is bullshit.  You should be judged on how you preform your job, not on how many goddamned tattoos you have.  Tattoos are a part of Marine Corp tradition.  From a simple USMC or Semper Fi, to an intricate
    design, tattoos show pride.  They show self expression and one’s beliefs.  As long as they are not inappropriate, sleeve tattoos should be allowed.  Spit and polish my ass.  The Marines prove their worth when they’re doing their job.  Who gives a shit whether you can see their tattoos when they’re in uniform or not?  I respect the Marines not because of the absence or presence of sleeve tattoos or any for that matter, but because of their actions.  One day I hope to be a Marine, and I hope that when that day comes, this shitty policy will have been abolished.

  • wysockijeff

    Chris! Your a Good Son!

  • wysockijeff

    I’m not a Marine, but my Son is! I don’t have any tatoos, but my Son does! I respect his discession to have tatoos, as any man that would put his mind and body thru the training that he and other Marines have been and are continually going thru should have their bodies decorated in the Warrior Spirit! It’s that simple and should not be any more complicated.

  • Ski

    I am a Marine with a very large amount of tattoos. I think there’s too much thinking and general panty twisting occuring when we’re subjecting personal views into tattoo policies. Obviously I’m going to be more accepting to those having tattoos, yet I see both sides as I held a second job in the civilian sector whilst still being active.
    I honestly view the updated policy as a load of bull. A man or woman should not be judged upon their view of art and self adornment and viewed upon their profeciency as a Marine and their job. To regulate sizes, visibility, locations, all of that happy junk is downright absurd.
    I do agree on the denial of commissioning programs for enlisted Marines and the regulation of hand and neck tattoos. I know I was denied 3 times for MCP due to excessive tattoos, and I agree with it. Hand and neck tattoos are pretty detracting to a Marine’s image as well.
    Just to add, when I was working in the civilian side as mentioned above, I was expected to wear a long sleeve shirt to cover my tattoos. It does seem to cause less tension to those who believe in the negative stigmata associated with tattoos. I did notice when I didn’t feel like it, that it was a great conversation starter and generally accepted, yet there was the small percentile that viewed it negatively and thought I was one of society’s deliquents that seeked employment to pay off my jail bond bills. So it’s all a double edged sword and tattoos will be a constant form of debate on you should you shouldn’t.
    Quite frankly I don’t agree with this whole update and rather, I think we should be able to finish grandfathered tattoos if we’re going to be held to such strict adherance. However, I’ve been strongly informed not to do so. We’ll see how long this lasts before it’s seen as either a great idea or assinine.

  • Cpl of Marines

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with those that are saying Tattoo’s are not part of Marine Corps culture. Tattoo’s are as much a part of our culture as the clean-cut image we project to the public when in garrison and the cold-eyed killer image we present to the enemy on the battlefield.

    The Marine Corps is not saying you can’t get tattoo’s, the Marine Corps is saying you can’t get professionally unacceptable tattoo’s.

    Yes, the modern work atmosphere is slowly changing, visible office tattoo’s are becoming more and more commonplace, that doesn’t mean it’s what you should do if you want to be taken seriously in a professional environment.

    I have ink. on my back, shoulders, chest and R thigh, none of it visible in PT gear, none of it visible in business casual attire. My ink is personal, It has meaning to me. I do not need tribal flames and koi fish all down my arms as that means nothing to me.

  • Sgt Billy Ray

    To say that tattoos are part of Marine Corps tradition is ridiculous.

    My father was a Marines during the Korean War and two uncles served in Vietnam, all without tattoos. I was in the Marine Corps during the 70′s and 80′s (including duty as a Drill Instructor a Recruiter and in Beruit)… and while I do have tattooos on my upper arms… I never saw Marines “decorate” themselves in the way they are now. To me it appears to be unprofessional. As my old MGYSGT would say, “It’s easy to be hard, but it’s hard to be smart.”

    You don’t need tattoos to prove that your a badass. Just the title “U S Marine” should be enough.

    Semper Fi

  • Gunns

    I think the tattoo policy has gotten a little out of hand. Marines having tattoos on them is as part of their history as storming the beaches and scaring the hell out of our enemies. That is part of their culture as Marines. We have gotten lost in the politically correct society we live in and protect and forgotten that our sole mission in life as Marines is to pull a trigger, not look pretty for those who so eagerly send us off to war and then forget about our men and women who are in harms way. Most of the Marines I see today get tattoos to remember their comrades who fell in battle or to commemorate a special or especially hard time in which they overcame an obstacle (as Marines are trained to do). I do disagree with full sleeves or tattoos on the neck, but do I think the Corps should be charging Marines with the “commission of a serious offense” charge and kicking them out? Absolutely not!

    I love the Corps. I love what it stands for, the people within the organization and the way they project themselves to the public…AS THEY ARE! Let’s get back to the things that really matter to “our” culture, preparing to protect the US from those who would love to do us harm and stop getting into discussions of political correctness. Remember that thing called the Warrior Mentality? Keep it simple stupid. See enemy, pull trigger, move on.

  • Chris

    I always wanted to get a tat but my mom would be mad.

  • Gunny R

    My opinion is that a Marine should not be allowed to have a tattoo below the elbow break or above the crew neck tee shirt and not be offensive in nature. It does NOT present the clean, polished, and respectful image that WE AS MARINES uphold. It is also my opinion that tattoos beyond these areas should prevent promotion to anything above the rank of Staff Sergeant, to include Warrant Officer and Commissioned officer.

    I personally have 3 tattoos L & R shoulder and L rib cage, and all are well within standards, as I uphold our beliefs with the highest of standards.

    Semper Fi – Always,
    Gunny R SWPA

  • Peter

    Hey, this is what I think, I am a Marine, who does not think that it is a good idea to have a tattoo, on me….but then again that is just me. While tattoos look good on other’s it does not mean that everyone has to get one, to show off their motovation…..Having a tattoo, will hurt, the chances of a Marine to do different types of duty….You do not have to show other’s of what you did…..I was always told to not disclose that kind of information, ever since boot camp. But then again that is just me..
    Semper Fidelis to all Marines!!! oo-rah!!

  • H. C. Rockwell

    I am a Retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant. I do not see any thing wrong with Tattoos. However, when I was a security supervisor I found that most employers frown on tattoos and rings in the nose ears and other parts of the body. Jobs are tight right now, the appearance of these makes people nervous. With that being said, there are still employers who are a little liberal and will accept these personal choices. When I was in security the Fortune Brand Companies, like the old IBM look and others like the relaxed atmosphere with blue jeans on Fridays. When companies deal with the public personnel who decorate their bodies repel potential customers and clients. I would suggest that Marines check out the dress codes before employment and dress right. The old school of dress for success is still correct. I have observed many a young person turned away for looking unsavory in an job interview. I would hire any Veteran Marine who has an Honorable Discharge. I have found the gung-ho attitude to win my care and would want them in my area of work.

    Gunnery Sergeant Rockwell Retired

  • Crystal

    This is completely antiquated and ridiculous. Tattoos are as part of the Corps lifestyle as M16s.

    I am a woman, a civilian (wife of a Marine, to be specific) and have a half sleeve on my right arm. I have NEVER had trouble being accepted as a professional or getting employment. I have worked as an admin assistant, as a legal secretary, as a correspondent for newspapers, and at libraries. Like I said before, I have never had trouble gaining employment or being accepted as a professional. I find it abhorrent and repugnant that the Corps is robbing tradition from these Marines and pushing these antiquated ideals about tattoos down the throats of its members.

    These men can give their lives for our country, but cannot put some ink on their skin — the one personal expression of themselves that they have while a member of the uniformed services. Shame on you, Marine Corps.

  • Ryan

    More of a question for me. To start I currently have a full sleeve on my left arm and is not finished, also grandfathered as well. Now to the question. Can I finish the tattoo or would it be considered an “additional” tattoo because of the fact it is adding to the existing tattoo and changing it’s appearence, or would it be fine to finish it because that is the tattoos area of coverage and is considered a part of it?

  • Jake

    If I’m grandfathered in can i make my half sleeve a full sleeve?