New Army Grooming Regs Roll Back Wartime Leniency

The Army is reassessing its grooming standards. The review is expected to touch upon issues ranging from tattoos to earrings to fingernails. Joshua DeMotts/Stars and Stripes

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The Army is cracking down on tattoos, dental ornamentation and haircuts in a long-awaited update to uniform and appearance rules that could make it harder to enlist and advance up the ranks.

The new rules aren't yet public, but a 57-page training program the Army posted online about the regulations indicates the service is tightening standards that had been relaxed to allow more people to qualify for service at the heights of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most notably, the new policy comes down hard on tattoos by redefining what "indecent" means, limiting the size and number of tattoos allowed and disallowing ink on the head, neck, wrists and hands. The training program does not specify how the decency standard has been redefined.

Soldiers who already have tattoos in off-limits areas will be allowed to stay in the service, but people who want to join up won't be allowed in if they have ink on their head, face, neck or wrists, or if they have tattoos whose content violates the Army's new, stricter standards. Enlisted soldiers with too much ink in visible areas won't be allowed to become an officer.

To make sure everybody's following the rules, commanders will have to document all tattoos above the neckline and below the elbows or knees and file that information -- including photos -- in their soldiers' official records. After that, commanders will have to perform annual checks for new tattoos.

Those found to have violated the rules "must be processed in accordance" with the new regulation, according to the document. It's not clear what that processing entails, but it notes that "most of the appearance and grooming chapter are punitive."

That goes for restrictions on grooming, fingernails and jewelry, too.

For men, grooming standards remain largely unchanged, save for the addition of three off-limits hairstyles: the Mohawk, the horseshoe and the tear drop.

Hair standards for women are laid out in more explicit terms that effectively reduce style options. Ponytails, though, are now allowed during physical training. Also specific to women: colored nail polish is now off-limits.

Also new in the revision are rules that ban all manner of dental ornamentation, from gold caps to jewels to unnatural shaping. The rules also prohibit all kinds of willful self-mutilation, such as tongue bifurcation and ear gauging.

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