WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Air Force announced new policies on dress and appearance with regard to tattoos on January 9, 2017. These changes result from a review of Air Force accessions policies directed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in 2016.
“As part of our effort to attract and retain as many qualified Airmen as possible we periodically review our accessions policies,” she said. “In this instance, we identified specific changes we can make to allow more members of our nation to serve without compromising quality. As a next step in this evolution, we are opening the aperture on certain medical accession criteria and tattoos while taking into account our needs for worldwide deployability and our commitment to the profession of arms.”
Authorized tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs will no longer be restricted by the “25 percent” rule, while tattoos, brands or body markings on the head, neck, face, tongue, lips and/or scalp remain prohibited. Hand tattoos will be limited to one single-band ring tattoo, on one finger, on one hand. The hand tattoo change ensures the ability to present a more formal military image when required at certain events and/or with dress uniforms. Current Airmen with existing hand tattoos that were authorized under the previous policy will be grandfathered in under the old policy standards.
A recent review of Air Force field recruiters revealed almost half of contacts, applicants and recruits had tattoos. Of these, one of every five were found to have tattoos requiring review or that may be considered disqualifying; the top disqualifier was the 25 percent rule on “excessive” tattoos. The new policy lifts the 25 percent restriction on authorized tattoos to the chest, back, arms and legs, opening up this population for recruitment into the Air Force.
Tattoos, brands and body markings anywhere on the body that are obscene, commonly associated with gangs, extremist and/or supremacist organizations, or that advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination remain prohibited in and out of uniform. To maintain uniformity and good order and consistent with Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” commanders will retain the authority to be more restrictive for tattoos, body ornaments and/or personal grooming based on legal, moral, safety, sanitary, and/or foreign country cultural reasons.
The new tattoo policy is effective Feb. 1, 2017. Further implementation guidance will be released in an addendum to the policy guidance.