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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from AR 670-1: 3-3 Tattoo, Branding, and Body Mutilation Policy which explains the Army tattoo policy.
Tattoos and brands are permanent markings that are difficult to reverse (in terms of financial cost, discomfort, and effectiveness of removal techniques). Before obtaining either a tattoo or a brand, Soldiers should consider talking to unit leaders to ensure that they understand the Army tattoo and brand policy. The words tattoo and brand are interchangeable in regards to this policy.
The following types of tattoos or brands are prejudicial to good order and discipline and are, therefore, prohibited anywhere on a Soldier’s body:
- Extremist. Extremist tattoos or brands are those affiliated with, depicting, or symbolizing extremist philosophies, organizations, or activities. Extremist philosophies, organizations, and activities are those which advocate racial, gender, or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, religion, or national origin; or advocate violence or other unlawful means of depriving individual rights under the U.S. Constitution, and Federal or State law (see AR 600–20).
- Indecent. Indecent tattoos or brands are those that are grossly offensive to modesty, decency, propriety, or professionalism.
- Sexist. Sexist tattoos or brands are those that advocate a philosophy that degrades or demeans a person based on gender.
- Racist. Racist tattoos or brands are those that advocate a philosophy that degrades or demeans a person based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
c. Tattoos or brands, regardless of subject matter, are prohibited on the head, face (except for permanent makeup, as provided in paragraph 3–2b(2)), neck (anything above the t-shirt neckline to include on/inside the eyelids, mouth, and ears), wrists, and hands, except Soldiers may have one ring tattoo on each hand, below the joint of the bottom segment (portion closest to the palm) of the finger. Accessing applicants must adhere to this same policy.
d. Soldiers may not cover tattoos or brands with bandages or make up in order to comply with the tattoo policy.
e. Commanders will perform an annual check for new tattoos or brands above the neckline, wrists, and hands. If any unauthorized tattoos are found, the Soldier must be processed in accordance with paragraph 3–3f. Tattoos on the face or head (to include on/inside the eyelids, mouth, and ears) were never authorized locations for tattoos. Soldiers with tattoos on the head or face must be processed in accordance with paragraph 3–3f, below, unless the Soldier received a written waiver upon entry into the Army. Commanders will also conduct a simultaneous check for extremist, indecent, sexist, and racist tattoos. If such tattoos exist, the Soldier must be processed in accordance with paragraph 3–3f.
f. Commanders will ensure that Soldiers understand the tattoo policy. If a Soldier has any tattoo or brand that is prohibited under paragraph 3–3b, has any tattoo or brand that is not authorized (such as a tattoo or brand on the face or head), or acquires any new tattoo or brand in violation of paragraph 3–3c, his/her commander will—
- Counsel the Soldier in writing. The DA Form 4856 (Developmental Counseling Form) will state that the Soldier is not in compliance with AR 670–1, paragraph 3–3, and will explain how the tattoo or brand violates the specific prohibition in the policy (for example, the tattoo is extremist because it is a known symbol for a specific hate group; or the new tattoo is in a prohibited location).
- Provide the Soldier with no less than a period of 15 calendar days to seek medical and/or legal advice, fully consider all available options, and respond to the counseling, in writing, by informing the commander that he/she will appeal the finding that the tattoo or brand is in violation of policy, pursue medical procedure(s) to have the tattoo or brand removed (or changed, if applicable), or not have the tattoo or brand removed (or changed, if applicable).
- (a) If the Soldier elects to appeal the finding that the tattoo or brand is in violation of policy, the commander will forward the matter to the first O–6 commander in the chain of command for a final determination.
- (b) If the Soldier elects to have the tattoo or brand removed, the commander will counsel the Soldier on a plan for scheduling the medical procedure(s). Soldiers will receive a reasonable amount of time to schedule the necessary medical procedure(s) and pay for such procedure(s) (if not available at a military treatment facility). Commanders must also determine if operational requirements will delay the medical procedure(s).
- (c) If the Soldier declines to have the tattoo or brand removed, the commander will counsel the Soldier in writing. The DA Form 4856 will state that the Soldier’s refusal to remove extremist, indecent, sexist, or racist tattoos or brands anywhere on the body, or refusal to remove any unauthorized tattoo or brand in accordance with paragraph 3–3c(3) constitutes a violation of a lawful order and will result in adverse action. The commander will then initiate administrative
- (d) Company-level commanders will make determinations for current Active and Reserve Component Soldiers. This authority will not be delegated further. If a tattoo or brand is discovered to violate this policy or the Soldier wishes to appeal the determination, the commander must submit the Soldier’s request to the first O–6 commander in the chain of command for decision.
g. Appropriate authorities for accession determinations are listed in paragraphs (1) through (6) below.
- Accessions recruiting battalion commanders (O–5 or above), or the recruiting battalion executive officer (O–4) who has been appointed as acting commander via assumption of command orders in the absence of the battalion commander, will make initial entry determinations for new accessions that tattoos or brands comply with this policy for Active Army (AA) and USAR Soldiers. This authority will not be delegated further.
- Recruiting and retention managers (O–5 or above) will make initial entry determinations for National Guard Soldiers that tattoos or brands comply with this policy. This authority will not be delegated further.
- Commanders (O–5 or above) of Soldiers applying for officer accession programs including Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and state and federal officer candidate and warrant officer candidate programs will make initial determinations for their Soldiers that their tattoos and brands comply with this policy including the provision listed in paragraph 3–3g, above.
- Professors of military science (O–5 or above) will make determinations for ROTC cadets, prior to contracting and prior to commissioning, that tattoos or brands comply with this policy. This authority will not be delegated further.
- Superintendent, United States Military Academy will make initial determinations for United States Military Academy cadets, prior to enrollment and prior to commissioning, that tattoos or brands comply with this policy. This authority may be delegated further.
- The commandants of state and federal officer candidate and warrant officer candidate programs will make determinations for candidates, prior to starting the course and prior to commissioning or appointment, that tattoos or brands comply with this policy. This authority will not be delegated further.
h. Determinations for accessions are required when it is reported (either by visual sighting or annotated on the DD Form 2807–1 (Report of Medical History)/DD Form 2808 (Report of Medical Examination)) that a tattoo may be prohibited per paragraph 3–3b. Determinations will be fully documented, in writing, and will include a description of all existing tattoos and their location on the body. The Soldier or applicant will receive a copy of all documentation. Unless otherwise directed by the DCS, G–1, these determinations are final. If a tattoo is discovered to violate this policy after an initial determination has been documented, commanders must submit requests for an exception to policy or for discharge through the Soldier’s chain of command to the ACOM/ASCC/DRU for approval. Appeals to the ACOM/ASCC/DRU decision will be forwarded to the DCS, G–1 for decision.
i. Exceptions to policy for accessing applicants not meeting the criteria outlined in paragraph 3–3c must be approved by the Director of Military Personnel Management, DCS, G–1. Such exceptions must be documented and uploaded into the Soldier’s AMHRR upon accession into the Army. Any previous delegation of approval authority for exception to policy for accessing applicants is revoked. This authority will not be further delegated.
j. Soldiers are prohibited from any unauthorized form of body mutilation, which is the willful mutilation of the body or any body parts in any manner. This prohibition does not include authorized medical alterations performed at a medical treatment facility or cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedures the commander normally approves.
Examples of unauthorized body mutilation include, but are not limited to, tongue bifurcation (splitting of the tongue), ear gauging (enlarged holes in the lobe of the ear that are greater than 1.6mm), unnatural shaping of teeth, ear pointing (or elfing), scarification (cutting to create intentional scarring), or body modifications for the purpose of suspension (hanging by body hooks). Soldiers who entered the Army with approved body mutilation before 31 March 2014 may request an exception to policy from DCS, G-1. See DA Pam 670–1 for processing guidance.