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No more Tattoo Taboo: Air Force and Space Force to allow neck and hand tats

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In a move that the U.S. Air Force and the Space Force said was made with modern Americans in mind, the two services will allow hand and neck tattoos for the first time. 

With recruitment down across all services, some of the disqualifying factors that had prohibited some young people from enlisting are now allowed. According to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), 41% of young Americans aged 18-34 have at least one tattoo.

Last year was one of the toughest for recruiting since the all-volunteer force was instituted. 

Although the active-duty Air Force met its recruitment goal of 26,000 last year, the Air Force Reserves fell short by 2,000 of its 8,600 airmen goal. Meanwhile, the Army fell short of its 2022 goal by 25% or 15,000 soldiers. 

In trying to remedy the situation, the Army eased its restrictions on certain tattoos in 2022.

Alex Wagner, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs said changes were necessary.

“To remain competitive, both with the private sector and our fellow military services, we are re-examining and updating our approach to talent sourcing and management—and that requires constant review and re-evaluation of our accession policies and ensuring that any changes are consistent with those high military standards required for mission accomplishment.”

Related: Short on recruits, Army eases tattoo rules – too late for one woman

air force tattoos
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kimberly Pate, 4th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) NCO in-charge of operations, flips through a book of EOD service member tattoo stories and photos at her home in Kinston, N.C., June 12, 2013. In the book, Pate displayed several of her tattoos which match those of her late husband. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aubrey White/Released)

Under the new service policy, Airmen and Guardians are allowed to have one tattoo on each hand and one tattoo on the back of the neck. However, the neck tattoo can only be placed behind a vertical line at the opening of the ear orifice around the back to a vertical line at the opening of the other ear orifice and includes behind the ear.

Tattoos/brands/body markings, however, are still banned on the head, face, tongue, lips, eyes, and scalp, as well as any that are obscene, commonly associated with criminal gangs, extremist, and/or supremacist organizations, or that promote sexual, racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination are prohibited in and out of uniform.

Last year, the Space Force allowed neck tattoos but not ink on the hands other than a one-inch ring tattoo. The Marine Corps still doesn’t allow tattoos on the neck and hands, other than a ring tattoo, while the Navy has a policy similar to the Army and now the Air Force. 

Feature Image: Senior Airman Autumn Rosado, 9th Aircraft Maintenance Unit avionics technician, takes a knee on the flightline in front of a B-1B Lancer aircraft at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 18, 2019. Rosado recently started an after-duty trade as a tattoo artist (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. River Bruce)

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