Young adults in the U.S. represent the primary market for both new tattoos and military enlistment. Somewhat paradoxically, these two things do not necessarily play nice. There is an interesting tension that exists between armed forces recruits with tattoos – or even with armed forces tattoos – and the increasingly conservative tattoo policies being adopted by the military. More and more prospective soldiers are finding themselves in a potentially awkward situation, being held back by career-related tattoo regret.

A different way of earning their stripes
While the young ages among the pool of those applying for military service mean that it's more likely many of them will show up to boot camp with existing tattoos of their own, you may be surprised to hear that it's also far from uncommon for soldiers and recruits to take their seats in the tattoo chair once they've already been issued their official uniforms and haircuts. In fact, soldiers get tattoos while in the service for a wide variety of reasons. Some get tattoos as a rite of passage or a mark of solidarity with the rest of their platoon.

Oftentimes, soldiers' tattoos can have a more deeply personal meaning.The New York Times told the story of one soldier who headed into the tattoo parlor to get a large memorial inked of his fellow soldiers who had lost their lives in the war in Afghanistan.

Rules and regulations
Unfortunately for some of these more expressive recruits, the military has been cracking down on their tattoo policies in recent years, and removing tattoos has been necessary for some soldiers. According to the new regulations adopted by the Army, recruits cannot have any visible tattoos on their neck, head or wrists. Even those that are in the approved areas must adhere to strict regulations – they cannot be visible in shorts and a T​-shirt, and those that are must be no larger than the soldier's open hand. The increasingly strict regulations may leave many body art enthusiasts with some unforeseen tattoo regret even years after the fact.

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