FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Pfc. Thomas Linton walked into the Ink Well tattoo shop on Bragg Boulevard on Oct. 11 with cash in his pocket and a mission on his mind.
Before the ink dries on new Army rules that are expected to ban tattoos below the knee or elbow, Linton plans to get some more ink on himself.
“I want a half-sleeve, for sure,” he said, using a finger to mark the distance down from his shoulder he’d like to have completely covered with etchings. “I just love ink. It’s an expression of yourself.”
But as commanders used to say about spouses, if the Army wanted its soldiers to have portraits of mothers, names of girlfriends or drawings of Mickey Mouse on their exposed skin, it would issue them.
Until now, it has tolerated tattoos, if they weren’t obscene, extremist, racist or gang-related, banning only those on the head, neck and face. Enforcement of the policy has varied, slackening at the height of the war in Iraq when the Army needed more soldiers.
With that war over and cuts in troop strength expected as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan next year, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said last month a new, stricter policy is in the works and could take effect in 30 to 60 days.
Current soldiers who have tattoos that violate the new regulations would be “grandfathered,” but new recruits would have to remove skin art that stretches onto the extremities before they would be allowed to join.
The changes have created an uptick in business at some of the two dozen or so tattoo shops in Fayetteville whose customers include soldiers at Fort Bragg.
James “Vinny” Vinson, who manages the Ink Well shop in a small retail center a few miles from post, said he’s seen a lot of soldiers coming in to get new tattoos while they still can. He’s also had an increase in tattoo removals, nearly all of them among young, aspiring soldiers who had paid for artwork that will cost twice as much or more to burn off with a laser.
“I just got this a couple of months ago,” said Travaris Brinson, 26, whose etching of his baby daughter’s name on his left forearm is still so fresh it looks like a decal.
When he went to talk to his recruiter last week, the man showed him a diagram of a human body with the parts that can’t be used as a canvas marked off-limits.
It cost Brinson $40 to have “Valayah” etched on.
It’ll cost him $100 to get it taken off.