Tattoos Hold Recruits Back From Military Careers

Tattoos Hold Recruits Back From Military Careers

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Tattoos Hold Recruits Back From Military Careers

Tattoo shop. Shane M. Phipps/U.S. Air Force If recruiters could send your kids a message, it would sound something like this:

Lay off the ink.

Covering yourself in tattoos can close a lot of career doors, including those in the military — which, ironically, was once about the only place tattoos were cool.

Policies vary a bit among the branches, but there’s one common theme:

Too big, too visible or too tasteless, and you and your tats aren’t welcome.

Capt. Corey Hill and his team of Army recruiters see it play out just about every day. Promising candidates walk into the recruiting office in Norfolk’s Janaf shopping center only to walk out, rejected because of their tattoos.

It’s gotten even tougher since spring, when the Army tightened its policy to ban ink above the collar and below the wrist. The service, cutting its ranks after the wars, can afford to be picky now.

"We needed more soldiers after 9/11 so we were more lenient," Hill said. "Now, we’re going back to our old standards. It’s about image — being professional and looking like it."

Tattoos on hands and fingers are out in the Marine Corps as well, though they’re acceptable to the Navy and Air Force , depending on their size. No service allows tattoos anywhere on the body that are vulgar, racist, sexist, anti-American, drug related, or associated with gangs, hate or extremist groups. Beyond that, the policies are a patchwork of math and measurements — and sometimes pure opinion, which can lead to confusion. Is a Confederate flag considered offensive? One recruiter says yes. Another says no.One morning last week, four out of the five recruits in the Janaf office had tattoos, and their body art was being scrutinized and inventoried.Dejuan Nixon, 18, had already passed muster and was preparing to swear in. His love of music was tattooed on the inside of his right forearm — a keyboard surrounded by musical notes and lots of scroll — which he […]