Idaho Army Guard enforcing new rules on tattoos

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- All branches of the military have some restrictions on tattoos, but the new Army regulation is the strictest of all.

The Army now prohibits soldiers from having tattoos on the face, head, hands or neck.

Soldiers may have no more than four visible tattoos below the elbow or below the knee, and these tattoos must be smaller than the size of the wearer's hand.

And those full "sleeve" style tattoos on arms or legs -- forget about it.

"Unfortunately sleeves are a no-go," said Command Sergeant Major Michael Kish with the Idaho Army National Guard. "Sleeves are no longer authorized."

Since the new regulations went into effect April 30th, the Army Guard at Gowen Field has had to turn away a handful of potential recruits because of their tattoos.

CSM Kish handles recruiting duties with the Idaho Army Guard.

"Tattoos are popular," he said. "And so it limits us (in recruiting). And among the young people ages 17 to 21 who want to join the Army, it can limit them. Some of today's youth may not understand how much it limits them, but unfortunately it does for military service."

And tattoo artists around the country have seen soldiers rush to get tattoos before the ban kicked in.

Erik Payne owns Inkvision in Boise.

"We've had multiple clients that have come in trying to beat the deadline, or trying to get their work done," said Payne. "Much of it patriotic work that reinforces their dedication to what they do."

Troops with extensive visible tattoos will be able to stay in the Army but they can't get new ones and they face restrictions on career advancement.

The changes are part of a comprehensive review of Army Regulation 670-1 led by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler. While some soldiers have voiced opposition to such changes, Chandler has reiterated that his goal is to project a uniform and professional Army.

"You chose to join the Army," Chandler said, according to the Army Times. "The Army didn't choose to join you."

TIME magazine reports the Army's policy change has been in the works for some time.

In 2006, needing more potential recruits at the height of the Iraq War, the Army began to allow tattoos on the hands and back of the neck.

But now with the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, the Army is poised to trim 80,000 troops in five years. With a smaller force, the news magazine says the Army can afford to be more selective.