Army members running out of time to get tattoos

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) - This year the United States Army issued some of the strictest dress code guidelines in history.

One of the issues they addressed involves tattoos.

Tattoos have been apart of the military culture for ages. It's a badge of honor and a rite of passage for where soldiers have come from and where they are going.

"The military was responsible for a lot of the worldly tattoo exposure in the states. They have been doing it for a long time. They have been bringing tattoos back from other countries," said Jared Preslar, a tattoo artist at Lucky Bamboo.

Preslar has seen an uptick in military tattoos over the past few months.

Senior airman Mark Pennington was in the shop finishing up his tattoo.

His father and grandfather both served in the Navy which was a big reason he got into the military.

His nautical tattoos honor both of them, but his latest tattoo is for himself. It's a confidence booster when he is deployed.

"It's the way that guides me home. The owl will carry me through the darkness that's why it is carrying the lantern," said Pennington.

The Air Force used to have some of the strictest tattoo rules until the army came out with its new dress code.

"Our higher headquarters, department of the army, has deemed that having an obsessive number of tattoos that are visible challenges or demeans the professionalism of our appearance," said Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Fairbourn with the Utah Army National Guard.

Thirty percent of the American armed forces have tattoos.
The Army wants to change that and limit the number of visible tattoos.

A soldier's tattoos can no longer be on the face, neck of above t-shirt lines.
They cannot be below the knees or elbows.

If the ink is visible the soldier can only have four about the size of their hand. If a soldier has more than four tattoos and they are cataloged they are grandfathered in. 

"The big thing now is sleeve tattoos. That is one thing they are trying to knock down on. You can have a sleeve tattoo it just can't go below your elbow," says Sergeant Major Troy Josie of the Utah Army National Guard.

Another new rule is tattoos cannot be extremist, indecent, sexist or racist.
Each tattoo has to be recorded and cataloged before July 31.

"I went down and they just took pictures of it and signed off to make sure it wasn't gang related or anyone would be offended by it," said Keith Batane a soldier with the Army National Guard.

If the soldier wants to become an officer they must follow these strict guidelines.

"I do see the point of kind of controlling the tattoo culture a little bit more cause military and tattoos go hand and hand," said Batane.

As the Army lowers its numbers it is also being more selective with recruits.
Officials want to make it clear they are not pushing soldiers out because of their tattoos.

"We want to keep our trained and qualified soldiers in. For those who are in violation in some way, the commander works with that soldier to establish a plan and they are given time to remedy those challenges," said Lt. Col. Fairbourn.

Each military branch has their own guidelines on where they can and can't have tattoos.

The soldiers that we talked to say this is going to change the military culture forever.

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