Tattoo sleeves become taboo in Corps
By Sgt. Scott Whittington
| | April 13, 2007
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP SMITH, Hawaii --
While most Marines have their own opinion on tattoos, the Corps’ is the only one that counts.
The new policy explained in MarAdmin 198/07 went into affect April 1. It bans new sleeve tattoos on the arm or leg that are visible in physical training T-shirts or shorts or getting additions to existing sleeves. This includes quarter, half and full sleeves. Any current tattoos will be grandfathered, but any visible tattoos in PT gear must be photographed, measured, described and inserted into that Marine’s service record book by the July 1 deadline.
According to the MarAdmin, a full sleeve is defined as one large tattoo or group of smaller ones that cover the entire arm from the shoulder to the wrist or on the leg from the upper thigh to the ankle, or almost covering a portion of the arm or leg. The definition of a large tattoo is up to the Marine’s commanding officer and some Marines are not pleased with the new change.
“I’m very disappointed because the Marine Corps was a place I could have a career without being judged for having tattoos,” said Cpl. Robert White, combat illustrator, Marine Forces Pacific. White enlisted more than two years ago with nine tattoos. Since his boot camp graduation, he has added 10 more tattoos. Some of these make up two quarter sleeves on both of his upper arms. These tattoos will be grandfathered but additions to these sleeves may warrant disciplinary action. If a Marine violates the order, he could face up to two years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge.
“I think any Marine who gets a tattoo that is visible in PT gear is setting himself up for failure in his career,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Berg, Headquarters and Service Battalion sergeant major, MARFORPAC.
Berg added that no measurement limit on a large tattoo may be established because a Marine who is 6’2” has a larger, longer arm than someone who is a lot shorter. Ultimately, it is the commander’s discretion.
From March 20 to March 31, tattoo parlors were being swarmed by Marines, according to some tattoo shop managers. Tattoo shops, say they will feel the affects by this new policy change. “We had a lot of young men come in and I find it sad that the Marine Corps is [classifying] tattoos as bad and evil,” said Peggy Sucher, 26-year, cosmetic tattooist with Skin Deep Tattoos in Honolulu.
“When I think of Marines, I see the [dress blues] – that devil dog in the dirt. I don’t see how tattoos have anything to do with being a good Marine,” she added
Some Marines agree with Sucher but admit that the Corps is held to a higher standard.
“There are sacrifices you have to make to be a Marine,” said Maj. Brian Thompson, officer in charge, combat camera, MARFORPAC. “I don’t think however, that just because you have a tattoo sleeve, it makes you less of a Marine.”
The new policy doesn’t ban all tattoos, but the commandant of the Marine Corps stressed that getting a tattoo may affect your career.
“A Marine has to realize if he wants to reenlist, he needs to be in compliance with the order,” said Sgt. Matthew Nale, career planner, MARFORPAC. “Excessive tattoos or tattoos that have been deemed offensive by the tattoo review board could keep a Marine from going on a [Special Duty Assignment],”
“As competitive as the Marine Corps is today, a [SDA] may be the determination between two Marines getting promoted,” Nale added.
In order to apply to a SDA, all tattoos regardless of location must be documented, photographed and explained. A tattoo review board will make determinations. Disqualifying or questionable tattoos include but are not limited to: nudity, profanity, anything racial, gang related, offensive in nature or prejudicial to good order and discipline. Visible sleeved tattoos are a disqualifier. Marines should be aware of letters that do not spell anything as they may be gang affiliated and ensure foreign characters are translated accurately, according to the Recruiter School Tattoo Review Board submission instructions.
Recruiting posters may never have had a tattoo-sleeved Marine standing tall. The most recognized image may be that of the dress blues and the sword.
Not all Marines are poster ready, according to Sgt Daniel Rosales, supply and administration noncommissioned officer, G-4, MARFORPAC and who has two full sleeves on his arms. “The Marine Corps is trying to establish this ‘perfect image,’” said Rosales. “It will never happen because Marines come in all shapes and sizes.”