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Topic of Army tattoos getting lots of ink lately

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Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 4:30 am

For the last 15 years or so, tattoos have become part of the Army culture. Thing is, the Army doesn’t like tattoos very much.

During a visit to Afghanistan on Sept. 21, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said new regulations on tattoos will be in effect within 30 to 60 days.

The new rules — which ban tattoos below the elbow or knees and above the neckline — are waiting for the signature of the secretary of the Army, which he’s already agreed to sign.

Current soldiers may be grandfathered in, but all soldiers will still be barred from having tattoos that are racist, sexist or extremist.

Once the rules are implemented, soldiers will sit down with their unit leaders and “self identify” each tattoo, according to a Stars and Stripes article about Chandler’s chat with soldiers. Soldiers will be required to pay for the removal of any tattoo that violates the policy, Chandler said.

Some soldiers asked if the Army will ever allow more visible tattoos, but the sergeant major of the Army said maintaining a uniform look is an important part of being a soldier.

When a soldier gets a tattoo that contains a curse word on the side of his neck, “I question ‘Why there?’ Are you trying to stand out?” Chandler said in the Stars and Stripes report.

To be fair, the new regulations are not unheard of. There has been talk of them for the better part of a year, causing an uptick in soldiers trying to “complete” tattoo projects on their arms or legs.

For as long as I can remember, tattoo shops have always been somewhat popular in Killeen and Harker Heights.

When I was a soldier stationed at Fort Hood in the mid-1990s, I heard tales of how Axl Rose, the front man for rock band Guns N’ Roses and a former 1st Cavalry Division trooper, would get tattoos at the Dragon Lady in Harker Heights. One of the tattoos on his left arm is his old unit’s crest.

I never got a tattoo while in the Army, but I knew a few guys who did. Later in the 1990s, the nation’s thirst for tattoos — among 20-somethings, anyway — grew.

The Army’s culture of tattoos increased even more with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And today, it’s a common custom for soldiers to get tattoos as a way to commemorate fallen comrades or tours of duty.

I think all of that is fine and dandy, but Chandler is on the right track, too.

Soldiers are soldiers, and uniformity is an important part of keeping a well-disciplined fighting force.

Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at jbrooks@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468.

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