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The Army Has a Staffing Problem – Everyone Is Inked

Army recruits face a strict new tattoo policy, posing the question whether there are enough ink-free bodies out there to protect the United States.

Credit: Plainfield Patch
Credit: Plainfield Patch

Once a day, Patch tackles national news that affects your community. If you have suggestions for tomorrow’s story, email catherine.crawford@patch.com.

The United States Army will soon implement a new rule barring soldiers from sporting tattoos below the elbows and knees or above the neckline.

Take one look at today’s inked-up youth, and you may wonder where they plan to find new recruits.

A 2010 Pew Research Poll found that 38 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-29 have at least one tattoo, and others suspect that the numbers have now reached 50 percent.

The forthcoming ban on tattoos, filed under Army Regulation 670-1, won’t affect current soldiers who will have existing tatts “grandfathered in” — unless the tattoos are “racist, sexist, or extremist.” Any of those will have to be removed — no matter where they are on the body — at the soldier’s expense. Ouch.

Newcomers must be free of visible ink. Staff Sergeant Robert Black, the assistant commander of the Norfolk Army Recruiting Center, admits it will “affect some individuals from entering the Army.”

The logic is obvious. It’s difficult to embody professional uniformity when soldiers’ limbs are covered with personal abstractions. If you need to express yourself to everyone who sees you, maybe the armed forces aren’t a fit for you.

But it seems somehow wrong to separate soldiers and tattoos. In an affectionate blog post on the Army’s own Web site, Staff Sargent Stephanie van Greete rhapsodized about the love affair between soldiers and their tattoos: “Tattoos and the military have a long and colorful history. The rise of the tattoo in popular culture started with floods of inked veterans — especially from World War II —returning home with them.”

So tell your niece or nephew who wants to go to West Point to stay bold, stay brave, but stay discrete if they're getting inked.

Do you think this new policy will affect recruitment? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.

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