Inked: New order bans some sleeve tattoos[MIGRATE]

By 2nd Lt. Patrick Boyce | April 13, 2007


(Photo by Lance Cpl. Justin P. Lago)

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Justin P. Lago)

For many Marines, having a tattoo is as fundamental to their identity as their utility uniform or high-and-tight haircut. Tattoos have been used to visually display a leatherneck’s pride in the Corps, or even to commemorate a fallen comrade. It was therefore with some anxiety that Marines first heard that a new and more restrictive tattoo policy would take effect April 1 in accordance with Marine Administrative Message 198/07.

With the flurry of civilian media interest and the well-known but often misleading Marine rumor mill, there may still be lingering confusion as to what the MARADMIN actually mandates.

“Upfront, the policy contains only two changes to the Marine Corps tattoo policy,” said Capt. Travers Foster, a military policy analyst for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.  “First, the policy now prohibits sleeve tattoos visible in PT gear, and second, it designates (the deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs) as the adjudicating authority for all tattoo issues related to retention and special duty assignments.  The policy does not prohibit tattoos or visible tattoos.”

The ban only applies to sleeve tattoos that are visible in physical training gear, Foster said.  Tattoos visible in PT gear, such as those on the forearm or calf, are still authorized if they are not sleeve tattoos.

There have always been limits on both the placement and content of a Marine’s tattoos.  Even before April 1, tattoos on the head and neck were strictly forbidden, as were tattoos of a sexist, racist or vulgar nature or tattoos showing gang or extremist affiliations. Such tattoos might bring discredit to the Corps, and rules restricting them have been in place to keep good order and discipline. These may seem like fairly commonsense rules, so why the recent addition?

“The commandant directed a review of the current tattoo policy,” Foster said. “He was concerned about the effect excessive tattoos were having on our traditional Corps values and our public image.”

The new policy defines a sleeve tattoo as “a very large tattoo, or a collection of smaller tattoos, that covers or almost covers a person’s entire arm or leg.”

Nevertheless, Foster explained that Marines who already have sleeve tattoos will not be penalized in any way, as long as they grandfather them to protect themselves with respect to retention.

This process means a Marine’s command must create a Page 11 entry that includes a description of the tattoo’s location, its size in inches, a photograph of the tattoo, and the Marine’s signature. The Page 11 entry is then to be added to the Marine’s Service Record Book or Officer Qualification Record.

Should a Marine choose to disregard the new policy, there could be serious consequences. Getting a sleeve tattoo now that the April 1 deadline has passed is a violation of a lawful order under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Punishment would be up to a Marine’s commander, but could include nonjudicial punishment or even a court-martial.

The second significant change as a result of the MARADMIN is the designation the deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs as the sole adjudicating authority for tattoo issues involving retention and special duty assignments. 

The change is intended to eliminate the possibility of multiple interpretations of the policy and to help ensure equitable implementation regarding retention and special duty assignments, Foster said.

It is doubtful that the long-held tradition of Marines getting tattoos will ever change – it is already part of Marine culture and assuredly will remain so. However, if Marines wish to remain one of the few and the proud, they should be aware of the policies outlined in MARADMIN 198/07 and should take a look at them before their next trip to the tattoo parlor.

For more information about MARADMIN 198/07, visit the Marine Corps Web site at and click on the “MarAdmin” link on the left side of the page.