Sgt. Lindsey Urena had a painful experience trying to remove a lizard tattoo on her hand in order to meet Army regs. / Courtesy of Lindsey Urena
Tattooed soldiers seeking to trade in their sergeant's stripes for a lieutenant's bar may soon see some relief from one of the Army's most controversial regulations.
The Army is very close to announcing changes to the policy, that will likely relax the rules for soldiers looking to earn a commission.
Army spokesman Paul Prince confirmed a review had taken place and that changes were imminent.
"Specifics about these changes will be published in the forthcoming version of" Army regulations, Prince said.
Army officials are remaining tight-lipped about specific rule changes until the revisions can be published. But it's likely to be good news for soldiers, many of whom have lambasted the service for not grandfathering enlisted soldiers who want to go officer.
The current version of Army Regulation 670-1, published March 31, includes the following rules:
â?¢ No tattoos on the head, face, neck and hands.
â?¢ No extremist, indecent, sexist or racist ink.
â?¢ No more than four visible tattoos below the elbows and knees. In addition, those tattoos must be smaller than the size of the wearer's hand.
â?¢ Visible band tattoos cannot be more than 2-inches wide,
â?¢ Sleeve tattoos are not allowed.
But here was the kicker: While most soldiers were going to be grandfathered, the regulation states that enlisted soldiers with illegal ink cannot request commissioning without a waiver.
The Army said it tightened its tattoo policies in order to maintain a professional look across the force.
The clause angered many soldiers, who took to social media to vent their frustration.
Many felt insulted that they were deemed ineligible to be commissioned because of their appearance, especially if their tattoos honored their fellow soldiers killed in combat.
Staff Sgt. Adam Thorogood of the Kentucky National Guard filed suit July 10 in federal court, seeking to have the new tattoo rules declared unconstitutional. Thorogood, who has 11 tattoos, hopes to become an aviation warrant officer.
Soldiers were further angered when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in response to a query from the Congressional Black Caucus, directed the services to review their hairstyle policies after an online controversy sparked when some black soldiers criticized the Army's updated regulation as racially biased.
The Army this month agreed to make changes to its hairstyle regulation as a result of the review. This incensed the tattoo crowd further, since the Army appeared willing to adjust hair rules but not the tattoo rules.
Details on those changes, along with the expected changes to the tattoo policy, had not been published as of Thursday evening. Officials expected the new rules will be published soon, possibly within days.
Amid the backlash from its new, tighter tattoo policy, the Army said soldiers could request an exception to the policy.
As of July, the Army has granted "approximately 59 exceptions to policy for tattoos" for enlisted soldiers working to become officers or warrant officers, Prince said.
Despite the waiver process apparently working for some soldiers, there remains confusion.
Army Reserve Sgt. Lindsay Urena, a medic, just earned a bachelor's degree in psychology with the sole purpose of seeking a commission and training to become a physician assistant.
Urena had a tattoo of a lizard removed from her right hand â?? a procedure she said was incredibly painful because the dermatologist she saw tried to remove the tattoo in one sitting. Almost three months later, her hand is still healing.
Now she's worried because she has a large tattoo of Bumblebee from the "Transformers" on her left forearm.
Her commander wrote a memorandum requesting a waiver on her behalf, Urena said, but the unit is now mobilized, and she doesn't know where her application stands.
The whole process has been painful and frustrating, she said.
"I am a noncommissioned officer," Urena said. "I am professional in every aspect of my military career. How is having a tattoo a symbol of being unprofessional? As a medic, does my tattoo prevent me from saving a life, giving medical care of helping my fellow soldiers? Not in the least, so why am I being punished for it?"
Staff Sgt. Alan Lalonde, who has half-sleeve tattoos on his arms, said in an e-mail to Army Times he wished his service would get with the times.
"I wish they would see the generation in which we currently live and adjust slightly to take care of the good ones," Lalonde said.
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