For years, the U.S. Marine Corps has been a symbol of pride and dignity. However, tattoos haven't come with that image – until now.
The organization recently decided to loosen its strict rules on allowing Marines to get tattoos. However, though the rules have become a little more flexible, there are still some restrictions. For instance, Marines won't be able to get any form of tattoo sleeve. If people choose to enlist and they have a sleeve, that person will be banned.
The rules for enlistees can be surprising at times, according to 18-year-old Anthony Bauswell who attempted to enlist in this branch of the military on Jan. 11. Bauswell has a tattoo of a Confederate flag that reads "Southern Pride" over it. When Bauswell told the Marine official about the tattoo, he was immediately disqualified. The current tattoo policy asks that all tattoos on Marines aren't "sexist, racist, eccentric or offensive in nature." However, Bauswell assumed that because he included the phrase regarding his southern heritage, he was in the clear. As Bauswell learned, while the tattoo rules may be reduced, they certainly aren't gone.
"Currently the organization allows tattoos to be the size of a quarter of a body part."
Making it clear
The new guidelines will be released in February or March of 2016. Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is hoping that these updated guidelines will give Marines clarity on what they can and can't get.
"Having talked to them, I don't think most Marines understand what the policy is," Neller told the publication the Marine Corps Times. "I don't think they understand what they can do. They just know they can't get a sleeve."
This new policy will even provide images to help Marines figure out what is acceptable and what's not. For instance, currently the organization allows tattoos to be the size of a quarter of a body part. However, many Marines are unsure of what that exactly means, so they may get a tattoo that's smaller than the rules, or larger, getting them in trouble. Neller also noted that the rules will shed light on how tattoos might affect a person's rank and ability to get a law enforcement job outside of the organization, as many Marines will choose to become an officer of some sort once they retire. Yet Neller didn't want to get into too many specifics with the publication until the documents were released to the public.
Setting an example
The Marine Corps isn't the only organization looking to lighten the rules surrounding tattoos. In April 2015, the U.S. Army implemented a similar policy that allows soldiers to get tattoos of any size, and also lets them get as many as they want. The Army chose to change its rules after getting a lot of feedback from soldiers about what they thought needed to be changed. The Army understood their opinions, noting that the overall view of tattoos in society has become less harsh. They also were fearful that they could lose prospective soldiers because of the old regulations.
Neller noted he has received a lot of feedback about tattoos from Marines as well. However, many have asked about the restrictions surrounding sleeves and have noted they would like to get one to commemorate a fallen friend or loved one. Yet while the Army made changes based on the feedback they received, Neller noted the Marine Corps doesn't have any plans to change their stance on tattoo sleeves.
"We're Marines," Neller said to the publication. "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?"
The wrong message
Neller noted that sleeves and half sleeves can sometimes send the wrong message. Currently, the rules surrounding tattoos in the Marine Corps prohibit all tattoos that could reflect negatively on the service or embarrass them. Aside from racist or sexist tattoos, Marines' tattoos also can't have any nudity, profanity or references to illegal drugs or substance abuse. Aside from sleeves, the military organization also doesn't allow Marines to have any bands that wrap around the body and are wider than two inches.
However, it might be wise for all service groups to lighten up on the rules regarding tattoos, as members might want to use tattoos as a way to cope or express themselves. Tattoos may be a good cathartic outlet for veterans to express their emotions about combat and loss. If organizations don't loosen the reins, it might deter people from enrolling.
Hopefully the new rules for Marine Corps will be a happy medium between what the organization wants and what the service members want, so that future members aren't discouraged from enrolling.