U.S. Marine Corps Relaxes Tattoo Policy

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U.S. Marines now have more flexibility with the tattoos they can sport in uniform, thanks to the updated tattoo policy that was overhauled last week. However, the Marines continue to have one of the strictest tattoo policies in the military.

Marines still aren’t allowed to have full sleeves, but now they can get as many tattoos as they would like–as long as their physical training uniforms, which consist of green T-shirts and shorts, fully cover them.

The new restrictions also prohibit soldiers from having tattoos that are located on the face, neck, wrists, knees, and mouth. The one exception to that rule is band tattoos, which are now allowed if they do not exceed three inches, or the width of the marine’s four fingers–spanning from the index to pinkie finger.

Body art policies have undergone varying changes across military services in the past year, mainly to take into consideration the rising number of young potential recruits who are getting ink.

“Society is changing its view of tattoos, and we have to change along with that,” said former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno while the policy was still being decided on. “It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that.”

Lower arm and lower leg tattoos are allowed if they are smaller than the size of the Marine’s palm. There is no limit as to how many visible tattoos enlisted personnel can have if they are in compliance with size, but officials can have no more than four visible tattoos. The restriction remains the same as to the type of tattoos that can be donned–the Marine’s body art cannot be extreme, obscene, indecent, racist, or sexist.

The Marine Corps tweeted out a helpful photo illustrating the locations on the body where tattoos are authorized.

Former Commandant General Robert Neller said he was surprised at how often the topic of tattoos came up when speaking with Marine recruits. Neller told the Marine Corps Times that the Marine Corps isn’t a “rock and roll band.”

Neller added,

We’re Marines. We have a brand. People expect a certain thing from us and right now, if you’re in PT uniform, you can be completely tatted up under your PT uniform. That’s not enough? You can still get certain size tattoos on your arms and your legs. How much do you want?

Others have expressed their opinions via social media.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green told CNN that he “wanted the policy to allow Marines freedom and flexibility to express themselves while also being clearly written and understandable for both Marines and their leadership.”

The Manpower and Reserve Affairs will handle violations of the tattoo policy, and regular spot checks are to be expected, according to the 32-paged detailed set of rules.

“Marines should understand that violating any policy has consequences and leadership will hold Marines accountable accordingly,” Green said.

If Marines have a tattoo that violates the current policy, they can go to the board and have it documented within 120 days of the policy update announcement and not be punished.

In the Navy, sailors are allowed to have neck tattoos, full sleeve tattoos, and any size or quantity of tattoos below the neck and knee. The Navy’s more relaxed tattoo policy was issued in March and aims to “ensure the Navy does not miss opportunities to bring in talented young men and women who are willing to serve,” according to a statement on its website.

Like the Navy, the Army does not restrict the size or amount of tattoos on a soldier’s arms or legs, according to its policy which was updated just last year. The Air Force’s tattoo policy is currently under review, and the new updates should be announced this fall.

Inez Nicholson
Inez is an editorial intern at Law Street from Raleigh, NC. She will be a junior at North Carolina State University and is studying political science and communication media. When she’s not in the newsroom, you can find her in the weight room. Contact Inez at



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