Is the Army telling soldiers to remove tattoos or get out?


1st Sgt. Aki Paylor, 10th CAB, had the Warrior Ethos tattooed on his arm while on leave from an Iraq deployment//U.S. Army photo

Staff Sgt. Jacob Wiley wrote us from FOB Connolly, in Afghanistan, to say that there’s a lot of  talk there about the Army revamping its tattoo policy to aid in downsizing.

He wanted to know if the rumor was true.

The Army last revised its policy on tattoos (see AR 670-1, PDF) in 2006 so that it could get at more potential recruits. It began to allow visible tattoos on the hands and the back of the neck, so long as thet were not extremist, racist or sexist.

If a soldier has a tattoo that somehow runs afoul of Army policy, a commander cannot technically order the soldier to remove a tattoo. However,  the command can counsel the soldier on “medical options” (read “removal”), and a soldier who does not take the medical option at the Army’s expense can be discharged.

What Wiley heard was that if a soldier has tattoos that are visible in the summer PT uniform, the soldier would be directed to remove them or they will be discharged.

“Sounds a bit off to me, as tattoos have always been commonplace in the military, with tributes to fallen comrades being the most well known,” he writes. “Then again, they are downsizing.”

We went to Hank Minitrez, a spokesman for the Army G-1. He wasn’t sure where Wiley got his information, but his experts told him that there are no tattoo policy changes in the works, and there have been no “All Army Activities” messages on the topic.

“They’ve received no guidance from the sergeant major of the Army, the chief of staff of the Army, the vice chief of staff of the Army, anyone who would issue that guidance to change the reg,” Minitrez said. “It hasn’t been a topic of the Uniform Board, so no.”

Jeff Schogol, AKA the Rumor Doctor over at Stripes, is the pro here. But at the risk of copyright infringement, please allow me roll up my sleeves and take a crack at a diagnosis.

The rumor seems to be false, but we will be keeping our ears open for any news that the Army is using skin art to kick soldiers out. If you hear anything, please let us know.


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  1. Katherine Rogers on

    I hope the rumor true. I hope soldiers have tatoos removed in a safe manner and are told in no uncertain terms to NOT get another tatoo. Doctors are seeing TO many young men and women dying from diseases such as Hepatitis C. If you want to decorate your body do so in a manner that does NOT cause risk of disease.

    If you got through the tatooing procedure and test negative to Hep C and other diseases why the removal? The military needs to be the place where the IN thing to do is to NOT get tatooed. Dont get a tatoo.

    I have heard from young soldiers that its considered part of their initiation to get tatooed. This is WRONG.

    It IS causing disease. The military policy needs to be against it. Soliders to find some OTHER way to play fill their need for initiation games. (Challenge one another to BEAT the PFT standards for example. ) We lose enough soldiers due to the efforts of the OTHER side. We do NOT need to lose soldiers due to STUPIDITY on OUR side.

    There is no true CURE for hepatitis C. There are medications that can help eliminate symptoms. Yes it does cause death and its not pretty.

    If you have a tatoo, please see your health care provider and ask what testing you need. The initial stage for diseases that are caused by dirty needles are typically SILENT ie you will show NO symptoms for a long while after getting the tatoo. Do not swagger and say “well I got MY tatoo months ago and I feel FINE”. Go get tested. Go tell your doctor…”I was STUPID enough to get a tatoo. Im here for THAT reason to get tested for what diseases I have now”.

    If any of you want to prove your an adult, DO your job, KEEP physical fit, KEEP your selves, your clothes and your weapons COMBAT ready. Support your families. Be loyal to your commitments and that includes fidelity to your marriage. Train mentally to prepare for work after the military. Take courses for your possible future work where you can …by correspondence if need be or study for credit by examination. In other words, being STUPID enough to get DRUNK and or tatooed does NOT make you an adult Your MOTHER will not follow you around in the military and TELL you what to do. YOU …are to take responsibility for taking care of your body and your health. DO the job. Take the responsibility. Guard your health. DONT get a tatoo.

    IF you get a tatoo related disease understand you ARE kicked out of the military. Testing positive for AIDS and or Hepatitis C for example are grounds for dismissal.

    If you HAVE a tatoo, take a LEADERSHIP role and get it removed safely by medical personel. If your a child you can sulk and claim “I can do whatever I waaaaaaant to”. You presented yourself to the military as an adult. Act like one. Step up and be an example. Adults do NOT risk major disease to prove their adult status. They simply KNOW they are adults so dont have to bother. Nor do they set the example of such behavior such as getting drunk or getting tatooed to others. They do NOT coerce others into getting tatooed.

    IF you encorage ANYONE to go get tatooed and they get AIDs or Hepatits, YOU are morally responsible for that death. They WILL die. Others may follow YOUR example if you are tatooed EVEN if you dont say a WORD. You…are responsible for the example you set. Get your tatoo removed. Its in the best interest of the military and therefore your country.

    You were a child to get tatooed and or drunk. Are you adult enough to get it removed?

  2. Wow calm down. So I came in with my tatoos and fought and bled for my country so people can have freedom. But now you chalenge my freedom to get a tatoo. Get a life.

  3. 1SG Darrin Stoner on

    Are politicians in Washington want to go after are retirement, and are benefits. They want to cut and cut. We Soldiers that are close to 20 years or over 20 years of Active Service have earned this. If our politicians want to save money and have an immediately impact then I suggest that you freeze all military schools for all the services for the next two years. It cost money to send Soldiers to schools and their families. Most of the stuff we learn is outdated anyway. By freezing sending Soldiers to military schools you save money immediately and the next two years you can update all or your school materials to bring everything current. There are thousands of Soldiers that go to these colleges across the US; I suggest that you freeze them for two years also. You cannot imagine how much TDY money that is spent on these schools and moving Soldiers and their families. I also suggest that you freeze all PCs moves for the next two years. You leave everyone in place for the next two years. If you want to retire or ETS then you can. Those are the only exceptions. I suggest that we do not give any pay increases for the next two years that goes with the private sector also. It has to stay balanced across the board. Take a look at all the military functions that every military post puts on every year. This also cost money. I suggest that you limit the amount of functions that every military post has. Do away with bonuses in the military for the next two years. Back in the day, you did not have to offer Soldiers money to reenlist. The economy is bad, if a Soldier really wants to stay in then he or she will and they will reenlist. If they do not want to stay in then they will get out. We have to downsize, this is another way of doing that. The president says we all have to sacrifice. I say we start here instead of going after Soldiers retirement and other benefits that they have earned. I believe if you take a hard look at these, few things I have mentioned will save are country a lot of money immediately. There are ways out there to save money. Stop trying to go after are benefits that we have sacrificed so much for the American people. 1SG Stoner

  4. Lady who are you to judge people. You have no life to say that tattoos are bad. And it’s not a initiation to get one it’s a choice so leave your dumb suggestions at the door. Not having a tattoo doesn’t make you better than someone who does. GROW UP and support your military no matter what their appearance in a short sleeve t shirt.

  5. Ms. Rogers,

    As an Army Officer, I have to say that I do not agree with your position on tattoos. I have tattoos, and have been tested prior to my many deployments for Hep C, as well as other possible diseases that may separate me from the Army, and they have all resulted negative. This is due to researching the tattoo shop before you get one. I agree with the phrase think before you ink, and take responsibility for the art that you get tattooed on your skin, because in the end it is the individual that has to pay those consequences.

    There is another problem that I see with your post, you are very judgemental towards tattooed Soldiers in uniform, which is a very large percentage. If a Soldier is acting within the regulations there should not be any further discussion about his/her actions. The subject matter experts have stated that there is no plan to go after those Soldiers with tattoos, so where is your campaign stemming from?

    It takes a strong individual to deploy and fight for their country. The act of deploying to a war zone and risking your life is a lot more dangerous than getting a piece of art tattooed on your body, so please do no lash out at tattooed Soldiers. You sleep under the blanket of freedom which they provide, and tattooed or not they are the ones in harms way, not you, so please show them nothing but the respect they deserve and a heroes welcome when you see them return from combat.

    U.S. Army Officer

  6. nothing important to say just the 1st comment was posted on my birthday and as soon as i got out of bct i went a had a tatoo done for my company CHARLIE CO 795 where i became a man

  7. Ms. Rogers,

    Who are you to judge those soldiers who have tattoos? Your rambling’s about Hep C are rediculous. Service members are tested pretty regularly. Tattoos are part of the military culture and you SHOULD know this. With all due respect, get off Army Times. It’s not where you belong.

  8. Ms. Rodgers,

    WTF are you serious? Your post was written on July 30th, 2011 this is not the 50’s where tattoo artists sterilize with a lighter and rubbing alcohol. You seriously need to get in touch with the times lady. ALL tattoo artists use the same sterilization methods as doctors use. It’s called an autoclav and if you believe that we have HEP C because we have tattoos then I believe it is just fair to believe that you have full blown AIDS because you got a flu shot this fall.

  9. As far as tattoos goes and getting Hep C or HIV, then I guess you better stop having sex because you can aquire it that way as well, I am a female and I have two sleeves and they represent who I am, where I have been and whom I have lost along the way. We are held at higher standards, we conform to uniformity we give you your freedom to say and do as you please! Maybe for some of us its our out let to release some of the pain we have seen. I think maybe you should take a look at who you go to sleep with every night, just remember that these diseases are not only spread in this manner. God Bless, and I am so happy that I can be included into that 1% of all people that join our military services atleast at night when I go to bed, I know me and my fellow brothers and sisters have accomplished something in our lives!!!! Which is to give you the freedom to B–ch about soldiers and getting tattoos. GET OVER YOUR SELF LADY!!

  10. this is definitely true. as of the first of march, people with tattoos that are visible in summer pts (shorts and a tshirt) can be discharged. they are really stepping up the standards for physical appearance both in and out of uniform

  11. Due to the fact that I know many NCO’S, officers, warrant officers, petty officers, and the likes across all fields of military, Rachel, your assumptions and claims are false. All of those listed above, have visible ink while in summer pt’s. None of them have been warned, talked to, or discharged. Hearing things through the grapevine, and seeing them actually happen; 2 very different things. For instance, I have a full left sleeve, and a bottom right half. Yet I still toss on my acus in the morning after pt formation.

  12. To Ms/Mrs Rogers,
    Ma’am, I have a question for you. What’s it like to live upon a mountain that was created exclusively from your delusions and ignorance? Some of us (as previously stated) have multiple tattoos. But yet, we don’t carry disease. Getting a tattoo does not mean that you will without question get Hepatitis C, or another illness. And you stated (multiple times and ostentatiously) that we as soldiers should act more like adults. To that, I pose a question for you: What kind of adult are you to judge others that you clearly do not know? “A responsible one!” you are surely exclaiming right now from the safety and comfort of your home, while some of these tattooed “children” are in war zones laying down their lives. I can guarantee you, that somewhere in the world is a squad leader about to kick in the door to a man’s house that would wish nothing more than to harm you, and send him or his men home in a metal box. And I’m fairly certain that this service member has at least one tattoo. But he is responsible for bringing all of his men home in one piece. And he cares for them. He’s seen things that he prays every night to whiever deity he believes in that his children doesn’t have to see. He keeps the wolf at bay when he’s growling at your door. Ma’am, he is a sheep dog. The grunt in the mud, and the muck. Running multiple foot patrols on little to no sleep and probably even less food. He cares for his soldiers, takes them under his wing, helps them with their problems while trying to solve his own. He comforts them when they are in need, he gives them his food when they have none, and gives them his last ounce of blood if it means that they will come home instead of himself. How dare you criticize this man, and the men like him? Because he remembers his fallen brothers in arms by getting a tattoo? Maybe one day you will come down from the mountain, walk on water for us grunts, calm the storm and break the bread. Until then, please. Honor the fighting man who may or may not have tattoos. They are a timeline of where he’s been. The things he’s seen, and the bretheren that he has lost along the way. You may not agree with tattoos, and that is an opinion that any adult is willing to respect. But please, don’t cram your ignorant views down our throats. To my brothers and sisters in arms I say this: I will follow you and your tattoos into battle any day, and continue the fight to the last round. Stay the course Brothers. Keep your heads down, and your feet dry.

  13. I sincerely hope Ms. Rogers is either an internet stirring the pot, 70+ years old, or one of those Westboro lunatics, because that is some wild conspiracy theory s#it right there! My God! Does this mean we can’t get vaccinations anymore? Does she wear fake earrings? Probably not. All the talk about combat readiness, she’s probably in a fortified compound hiding from the Illuminati.
    On a serious note, the military has been very indecisive on tattoos. The policies change just about every four years. I’m surprised about the USMC being the strictest right now

  14. I personally have no problem with any service member having tattoos. The tattoo as an artform can be awe-inspiring. I have a half sleeve tribute to my mom (RIP) planned, but now I have to wait for fear of the Navy not accepting me. Many law enforcement agencies couldn’t care less about tattoos as long as you wear a long-sleeved shirt. Having worked for the Army the last 6 years, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that uniforms come with long sleeves…
    Neck, face, head, hand tattoos being banned I can understand, but really, how many civilians see service personnel in their PT gear? The Marines wont let you be a recruiter now if you have visible ink, but with tattoos becoming more and more popular with each new generation, I would think its a damn good marketing strategy!
    Based on some reading, I think the “Old Guard” has more of a problem with tattoos than John Q. Public…

  15. Clearly, as many people have pointed out, Katherine Rogers has no idea what she is talking about. Also, I was under the impression after skimming through AR 600-110 that being found to be HIV positive does not mean that you will be automatically kicked out of the military. If I was reading it correctly, an HIV positive person can request a discharge, but they can also be re-assigned to specific non-deploying units. Feel free to correct me if I’m incorrect in this matter.

  16. I recently got a tattoo (01 Feb 13) on the back of my forearm. It is on both arms, left has three chinese symbols and right has four, They are relatively big (extend from wrist to elbow). When my platoon SGT saw them while we were doing PT, he said I made a mistake getting them and I should consider removing them or getting a discharge. So far no paperwork or anything has been initiated but it is most likely true. I hope not!

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