Armed Forces News

Army recruiters say making recruits wait for a tatoo waiver has turned many of them away, often to the Navy or Marines. Image: Spaskov/

Soldiers now can have tattoos on their hands and the backs of their ears and necks, under a new relaxed policy approved by Army Secretary Christine E. Wormuth.

Some limitations are in effect:


• One tattoo per hand is permissible, not exceeding one inch in length.

• One tattoo no larger than two inches in length is permitted on the back of the neck.

• One inch-long tattoo is allowed behind each ear.

Also, soldiers can have tattoos impressed between the fingers so that the designs are not visible when fingers are closed.

The new policy supersedes a prior one that required recruits with certain tattoos to apply for and be granted waivers before they could join the service.

“This directive makes sense for currently serving soldiers and allows a greater number of talented individuals the opportunity to serve now,” said Maj. Gen. Doug Stitt, director of military personnel management.

The Army reported that recruiters filed more than 650 waivers this year for both active-duty and reserve recruits. The service’s training and doctrine command (TRADOC) conducted surveys that indicate some 41 percent of all 18- to 34-year-olds have at least one tattoo. Because waivers could take up to 14 days to process, the Army acknowledged that many potential new soldiers instead opted to join the Navy or Marine Corps – both of which have much less restrictive tattoo policies.


Some restrictions that were adopted when the Army first began allowing tattoos in 2015 remain in place. Extremist, hateful or offensive words and images are still prohibited.

Company commanders still will perform yearly inspections of tattoos, to make sure they comply with regulations. Soldiers with tattoos that do not pass muster will be counseled, and given 15 days to explain to their commanders whether they intend to have the proscribed images removed or altered. Those who do not comply could face separation from the service.

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