For Marines employed in what's become a hyper-competitive professional settingdrawdown environment, not even multiple meritorious promotions, a combat valor award and a command-endorsed waiver endorsed by their chain of command are likely to save one's their career if he has they have run afoul of the service's restrictive tattoo policy ies which were significantly tightened in 2010.
That's the hard truth Sgt. Daniel Knapp, a hard-charging infantryman stationed in North Carolina, an 0311 rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, learned after getting inked on his forearm with a pair of crossed rifles and the numbers 0311 — the Corps' designation for Marine riflemen — tattoo on his forearm to commemorate his 2011 first deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan, in early 2011 when the town was still hotly contested by Taliban insurgents.
Knapp, who is assigned to Camp Lejeune's 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, was recently denied re-enlistment by Marine Corps headquarters despite a policy waiver endorsed by leaders within his parent command, the 2nd Marine Division's leaders endorsing a waiver. So now, while the rest of his battalion is with 2/8 deployed to Europe as part of a crisis-response force, Special Purpose Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response - Africa, Knapp is sidelined in the States spends his days at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, counting the days time until his end of active service date in June because he didn't have enough time left on his contract for a deployment.
Knapp's predicament highlights a generational disconnect on attitudes towards ink and what Marines say is the need for lax regulations that reflect changing societal perceptions of tattoos. When paired with a widespread lack of understanding among the rank-and-file of lengthy tattoo regulations, the service is losing many otherwise-good Marines. Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said during a recent trip to Japan that the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps would lead a review if policy, but if the effort would lead to changes remains unclear, for now.
"When I was in Afghanistan," Knapp told Marine Corps Times, "my tattoos never stopped me from shooting anyone, and they never made me more of a target.," he said." They never stopped me from keeping Marines safe. On patrol nothing ever happened because of my tattoos."
Sgt. Daniel Knapp exists a helicopter at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, after conducting a raid in Now Zad. He says tattoos have no bearing on combat abilities.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sgt. Daniel Knapp
It is a common refrain among from those who support relaxing tattoo regulations — current Marines and veterans alike. Even the Many like Knapp and even venerated retired Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey, beloved throughout the Marine Corps for his portrayal of who played the role of a sadistic drill instructor in filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's the cinematic classic "Full Metal Jacket," has have repeatedly argued that tattoos should be allowed because they are an indelible military part of naval tradition with absolutely that has no bearing on combat efficacy.
Over the years Ermey, 71, concedes has said there should be tighter restrictions for what he calls "tuxedo jobs," the highly visible assignments such as Marine embassy guard security guard at an embassy. But for rank-and-file those like riflemen, there needs to be far more leniency, he believes it just doesn't make sense.
When the service's tattoo policy was last amended in 2010, Ermey called the restrictions His sentiments are perhaps best captured by comments he made to Marine Corps Times in 2010. "I think it's ridiculous, totally ridiculous - borderline silly," saying he said. "I challenge anybody who is making these decisions to prove to me that a Marine, because he has tattoos, is unable to fight."
"Samurai warriors had tattoos, and they seemed to be pretty honorable people," he added. "I've got three tattoos on my forearm. They've been there for 100 years, and I've never noticed them hindering me. For sailors and Marines they are a log of where you have been."
The But some service's senior leaders, at least those who've supported the tighter restrictions, argue that excessive or inappropriate tattoos not only detract from one's military bearing, they threaten to undermine a Marine's civilian career prospects. Any ink and that even those considered appropriately themed should be discreet. The policy in place now is the product of nearly 10 years worth of staff work, retired Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett told Marine Corps Times in 2011, when the last updates were finalized new Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green doesn't have any tattoos, although he said he is an admirer of some. But his predecessor Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett who retired in February had several. In a 2011 interview with Marine Corps Times, then-new SMMC Barrett said tattoo policy had been worked on for a decade and then finalized by former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Jim Amos. Sleeve tattoos were already banned in 2007, but the 2010 changes included limiting limiting the size of tattoos visible in PT uniform to the size of a wearers hand and the number visible in PT uniform to just four for officers. Also the width of band tattoos was limited to 2-inches maximum for officers and one-quarter of the body part they cover for enlisted Marines. [[[need to provide just a short -- one sentence summary of the policy here. nothing showing in PT gear, is that it?//A.deG. Check/jks]]]
After all that effort, Barrett said, the matter Thus, it would not be revisited.
"Let's get rid of the myth that the leadership has something against tattoos," he said at the time. "Because they don't, Devil Dog," he said at the time. "If they did, I wouldn't be the 16th sergeant major of the Marine Corps because I have five tattoos. But every one of my tattoos is a Marine Corps tattoo. It ain't this fancy artwork crap. It's Marine Corps tattoos."
Ironically, the tattoo that has cratered Knapp's career is – like those Barrett likes – Marine Corps-themed. However, its size and placement amount to policy violations is too big and on his forearm and so runs afoul of what is considered excessive under current policy.
Society sees it differently, But policy made to preserve military bearing doesn't match current societal perceptions of tattoos, Knapp argues. "The top people grew up in a different time when they were not acceptable," he said. "So that is shaping their decision making. Decisions should be made based on what is good for Marines, to fight wars and be ready."
The Army appears to agree. Its top general, Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, made similar remarks in April upon ordering the service to relax its tattoo standards. Offensive tattoos are still banned, but restrictions on number, size and location have been lifted so long as they aren't on the face, neck or hands, with the exception of one ring-finger tattoo.[[[Add one sentence summary of key changes please//A.deG. Check/jks]]]
"Society is changing its view of tattoos," Odierno said, "and we have to change along with that. It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that."
Knapp also rejects derides the argument that tattoos could stunt hurt Marines' civilian employment opportunities when they return to the civilian world. Just stay away from As long as Marines are reasonable and don't get neck, face or hand tattoos, he said, and you'll be good to go. A they can always put on a shirt and tie will cover what you've got and look professional even in a corporate environment regardless.
He points to Today doctors, lawyers and even Dr. Matt Taylor, a leading European scientist working with NASA who is one of the lead who is acclaimed for his work working with NASA on the Rosetta space probe project have tattoos. Both of his arms are covered in tattoos — Taylor, in fact, has two full sleeves, Knapp notes, adding "Can you imagine if NASA told him 'We can't keep you at NASA because you have tattoos on your arms?'" Knapp said.
'Unfit' to re-enlist
Knapp's ink is far more modest than sleeve tattoos, which the Marine Corps banned in 2007, but it still does not meet regulations. In fact, it was, however, conservative enough that nobody took note of it until he spoke to a career planner about re-enlisting — nearly about four years after Knapp got the offending tattoo.
"They didn't have an issue meritoriously promoting me when I had a tattoo," he said. "I had never heard anything about my tattoos. Nothing was said until I went to the career planner."
Sgt. Daniel Knapp is meritoriously promoted to sergeant in November 2012 despite having tattoos that don't meet current regulations.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sgt. Daniel Knapp
Having proven himself in Afghanistan, downrange where he received a meritorious promotion to corporal and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for combat valor after he lead a team to suppress fire for his entire platoon, Knapp assumed he would be fine when it came time to re-enlist. The career planner and his command thought so too he has a solid chance at getting a waiver to stay in. Knapp, after all, was a Tier 1 Marine, putting him in the top 10 percent among his peers based on fitness and Physical Fitness and Combat Fitness Test scores, marksmanship scores, and overall job performance fitness report marks.
Knapp posted a 280 and 300 on his He has 280 Physical Fitness Test and 300 Combat Fitness Test, respectively. He did scores, completed a second deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, conducting helicopter raids in the Sangin and Now Zad districts of Helmand province. And during his six years in uniform, Knapp earned two meritorious masts, two certificates of commendation, four was awarded an expert rifle badges on the rifle range four times and certification was certified as a black belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor.marital arts instructorMarine Corps Martial Arts Instructor.
One sergeant major didn't support the waiver, but even Knapp's first sergeant thought he would be fine.
"Everything was going great," he said. "I always intended on staying in. I picked up meritorious corporal on my first deployment to Afghanistan and sergeant right after that. I was almost going on three years as a sergeant. All the battalion staff thought I was pretty competitive. They were pretty amazed how they shot me down for re-enlistment. Nobody could believe it."
Career planners say that, particularly now as the service reduces the size of its post-war active-duty force, in today's hyper-competitive drawdown environment they've have seen many their share of Marines denied re-enlistment because of their turned down for tattoos. Staff Sgt. Nicholas Greuel, a career planner with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, told Marine Corps Times just last month in March that even all of these years after the policy was revised, Marines continue to violate the regulations, posing a problem when they try to reenlist.
Still, as the Corps draws down, officials have been clear that they intend to keep some good Marines — even those with . But even if Marines have a documented problems such as an unauthorized to include an out-of-regs tattoo, counting themselves out is a big mistake. Promotion Selection boards consider several factors when they evaluate Marines' about a past mistakes, including their nature, severity, whether it's been corrected and how long ago it occurred. Manpower officials and selection boards may be, in a given year, granting wiggle room for one reason or another.
"We don't have a zero-defect mentality," said Gunnery Sgt. Trevor Goff, an enlisted career counselor at Marine Corps headquarters. "Boards consider how long ago it was. Have you corrected it? Was it a moral or ethical violation? With those, it is harder to see if you got your moral compass back to true north."
In Knapp's case, he was considered "unfit" to reenlist. Now he questions why the waiver process exists, if not for Marines like him.
"The waiver process is meant for people like me who have something minor on their record," he argues. "It doesn't say anything about my character or the type of Marine I am."
Don't make the same mistake
The At the end of the day, current policy is costing the Corps resulting in the loss of good Marines, Knapp said. The service was willing to grant him waivers for the tattoos he already had upon enlisting in when he enlisted in 2009, but not for the Marine tattoo he got after going to war deployment. He wonders how that makes sense when the service is That is a hard hit to the Corps at a time when they are already struggling to keep hold on to experienced noncommissioned officers including infantry squad leaders like Knapp.
[[[where does this come from? please provide a smart embed//A.deG.]]]. DETAILS OF COMMANDANTS COMMENTS.
The Corps believes it is the individual Marine's responsibility to understand the policy and comply with it. To that end, though, officials are augmenting some key leadership training to emphasize the consequences of breaking the rules and encourage those in positions of influence to educate their subordinates. In fact, Knapp's case is cited as a cautionary tale — though his name is redacted — during the First Sergeant's Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
In fact, Knapp's case is used as a cautionary tale — though with his name redacted — during the First Sergeant's Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
"The premise of touching on the story was to inform leaders to not only ensure their Marines are educated in orders, regulations and policies, but also in regards to making recommendations for special duty assignments, schools and more importantly waivers for re-enlistment," said Col. Richard E. Jordan, the Marine Corps' director of enlisted education.
"In the example used, the majority of the chain of command recommended approval for this re-enlistment waiver (RELM) Waiver because the sergeant was good and they thought he could benefit the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, they overlooked the fact that the Marine was in violation of the tattoo policy."
The example isn't specifically about the tattoo policy, however, Jordan said. It's was more about emphasizing "due diligence in making fully informed recommendations to the commander."
At issue, too, is a lack of understanding of current policy by junior Marines. When Knapp got the tattoo, he said, he was unclear that it would run afoul of the policy. He has since found that many junior Marines under him also have an overly simplistic or incorrect understanding of the policy. Many, he said, for example, "think you are good to go if you can cover it with your hand," but they don't realize there are also restrictions on placement, number and content.
His goal now, and the goal of using cases like his during PME, is to ensure other squared-away Marines don't make the same mistake. "I'm definitely telling them what I was never told — the exact specifics of the tattoo policy," he said. He was inspired by some of his seniors' tattoos, to get inked and worries he may have had the same influence on his junior Marines. "Some of the best leaders that I ever had in the Marine Corps had tattoos and that might have even lead subconsciously for me to want to get those tattoos," Knapp said. "My Marines, they look up to me and I'm sure some of them have gotten tattoos just because they see me."
Prospects for change
There may be It is too early to say if there is good news on the horizon for Marines who want the tattoo standards relaxed. The but the commandant is now considering recommendations from Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green and a panel of senior enlisted leaders on whether policy should be revised.
During The announcement was made in in late March while Commandant of the Marine Corps Joseph Dunford was visiting Marines in the Asia-Pacific region. During a March 24 town hall meeting with Marines in Japan, Dunford said the service's at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, he told Marines that senior enlisted leaders would determine if any changes are needed. Green then said that the review would take place between March 31 and April 1, the results of which would be forwarded to the commandant for a final decision. Neither Dunford nor Green offered specifics as to which facets of tattoo policy would be reviewed, but Green — who doesn't have any tattoos but has said he admires some — indicated it was in direct response to questions leaders have received from the fleet.
"We heard you," Green said during a radio interview on AFN Iwakuni. "We are going to look at what is best for the Marine Corps and what will keep us combat ready and combat effective," Green said during a radio interview with AFN Iwakuni. We will make that decision and give that advice to the commandant."
A spokesman for the sergeant major confirmed April 16 that the review was completed and likely briefed to the commandant, but he said he was unsure certain where the matter things stands. A spokesman for the commandant said the same.
"I believe that the current tattoo policy, as well as many other topics, were discussed among our senior enlisted leaders recently, but I'm not aware of any specific recommendations for the Commandant to consider as a result just yet," said Lt. Col. Eric Dent.
This, coupled with the Army's recent move, offers Knapp some hope that he'll be able to save his military career[[[He said the opposite of this. He knows he is done. He is more concerned about future Marines.///jks]]] The Army has recently relaxed standards saying soldiers can have as many tattoos of any size as they want so long as they are not on the face, neck, or hand with the exception of one ring tattoo. Racist, derogatory and sexist tattoos also remain bannedIt strikes down a more restrictive policy, one still more generous than the Marine Corps', that limited soldiers to just four tattoos smaller than their hand below the elbows and knees. When asked if Knapp would consider preserving his career in the military by trying to transition to the Army under their newly-relaxed standards, he responded with a definitive "no." said in no uncertain terms "No."
"Honestly as much as I love being in, I couldn't go over to the Army because being a Marine is something that I love," he said. "I always wanted to be a Marine. When I became one, I wanted to be the best Marine. If I went over to the Army, I would spend the rest of my time regretting it."
With reporting by staff writers Hope Hodge Seck, Derrick Perkins and Michelle Tan.