The Marine Corps launched its new tattoo policy on Friday, which brings back sleeves and ditches any rank-specific restrictions in an effort to improve retention and recruitment, the Marine Corps confirmed.

Marines can now sport an unlimited number of tattoos on any body part, except the face, neck and hands, with the exception of a single ring-like tattoo on one finger.

“The decision to change the policy came after a months long-review of existing regulations which were believed to have an adverse effect on retention and recruiting efforts,” Headquarters Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger said in a statement announcing the policy change.

“A panel of Marines from various backgrounds and ranks recommended changes to the policy,” Stenger added.

The panel consisted of dozens of Marines of various ranks from lance corporal to colonel, and consisted of almost 30 different military occupational specialties, an official familiar with the panel told Marine Corps Times on the condition of anonymity.

The Corps said the new policy upholds the traditions of the Corps while better aligning with current societal trends.

“The American people expect Marines to be disciplined, physically fit, and ready to accomplish any mission,” the Marine Corps bulletin announcing the policy said. “They also expect Marines to represent the nation they are sworn to protect.”

This bulletin “ensures that the Marine Corps maintains its ties to the society it represents and removes all barriers to entry for those members of society wishing to join its ranks,” it added.

Beyond adjusting to current social norms and increasing the pool of potential recruits, the Corps has made the change as it looks at increasing retention.

The Corps is currently increasing its investment in the level of training Marines receive throughout their careers as it prepares to fight a more complicated future war with small highly dispersed units.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black have both said the Corps needs to rethink its treatment of Marines to ensure that those increased investments are not wasted.

“We buy service members for a contract, I would offer we need to think a little longer,” Black said at the 2021 Sea Air Space conference at National Harbor, Maryland, in August.

“We have so much invested in training and education right now in the first term of a Marine’s career, we need to keep that (Marine),” Black added.

What changed?

The new policy seeks to simplify the Marine Corps’ rules around tattoos by bringing all Marines, regardless of rank or billet, to the same standard.

Under the old policy, issued in 2016, enlisted Marines were allowed an unlimited number of tattoos, as long as they did not have a sleeve. Officers and officer candidates, however, were limited to four tattoos that were visible in the Marine Corps physical training uniform.

Under the new standard all Marines will be allowed an unlimited number of tattoos, along with tattoos on the knees and elbows, heralding the long-sought return of sleeves.

The sleeves or any other tattoo on the lower arm, “may extend down no further than a line around the circumference of the wrist measured at the wrist bone,” the current bulletin stated.

Chest and back tattoos must remain below the collarbone and seventh cervical vertebrae and must be fully covered by a “a properly fitting crewneck T-shirt with no portion of the tattoo showing,” the bulletin said.

Since sleeves were banned in 2007 Marines have longed for a change to what was then the strictest tattoo policy in the Department of Defense.

Under the old policy some Marines had their careers cut short.

When restrictions were slightly eased in 2016, the Corps told Marine Corps Times that 33 Marines between June 2015 and June 2016 were denied reenlistment because of their tattoos.

The Corps does not plan on automatically allowing Marines who may have been denied reenlistment or were separated due to past tattoo policy to return to the Marine Corps, Stenger said.

But if they wish to return, they are encouraged to try.

“Marines no longer on active duty are encouraged to see a prior service recruiter to determine their eligibility for active duty service through the prior service enlisted program,” Stenger said.

Under the 2016 policy, Marines with tattoos that were visible in PT uniform were banned from special duty assignments like recruiters and drill instructors.

Those assignments come with extra pay and faster promotion chances for Marines who successfully complete the assignment.

“Officer and Enlisted Marines may continue to be assigned or allowed to serve on Special Duty Assignment (SDA), although assignment to ceremonial and other high visibility units may be restricted,” the bulletin reads.

One such high visibility position may be Marine security guards, who stand post at U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe, a source familiar with the situation said.

Though it is not guaranteed, the State Department may request that Marines with visible tattoos be barred from the Marine Security Guard program, an official with knowledge about the policy change told Marine Corps Times.

If that happens, the Marine Corps will likely comply with the request, the official added.

“Marines are advised there are future career implications regarding the application of tattoos,” the bulletin stated. “A tattoo that is not specifically prohibited may still prevent future duty assignments.”

Extremism

Though the policy comes with reduced restrictions on tattoo placement, the Corps beefed up the definition of extremism in the policy when describing tattoos that are banned for content.

Both the 2016 policy and the current policy ban tattoos that are “are drug-related, gang-related, extremist, obscene or indecent, sexist, or racist.”

The previous policy defined extremism philosophies as, “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.”

The most recent update expands that definition to include, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The policy also explicitly bans tattoos that, “advocate, engage in, or support terrorism; advocate, engage in, or support the forceful, violent, unconstitutional, or otherwise unlawful overthrow of the government of the United States, any state, commonwealth, district, or territory of the United States; or advocates, engages in, or encourages military personnel or DoD or US Coast Guard civilian employees to violate laws or disobey lawful orders or regulation for the purpose of disrupting military activities.”

The expanded definition comes as the entire Department of Defense takes a deeper look at extremism within its ranks in the wake of attempted insurrection on Jan. 6 in support of President Donald Trump.

Several Marine veterans took part in the insurrection attempt that hoped to overturn the election of President Joe Biden based on their belief that Biden stole the election.

One active duty Marine, Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, was charged with federal offenses for his alleged role in storming the U.S. Capitol.

“The Marine Corps is clear on this: There is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps,” Headquarters Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jorge Hernandez said in an email May 13.

“Our strength is derived from the individual excellence of every Marine regardless of background. Bigotry and racial extremism run contrary to our core values,” Hernandez added.

In February, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on all branches within the Department of Defense to conduct a 60-day stand-down to discuss the issue of extremism in the ranks.

Enforcement

Enlisted Marines will have their tattoos reviewed every time they submit a reenlistment package to ensure that they are still within regulations, according to the bulletin.

All Marines will have their tattoos checked for compliance twice a year while having their height and weight verified, the bulletin adds.

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