Marines Update Uniform Policy to Allow Some Tattooed Women to Enlist

Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. (Photo By: Sgt. Jennifer Jones)
Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. (Photo By: Sgt. Jennifer Jones)

A small change in Marine Corps uniform policy will allow women with some chest tattoos to enlist, according to an announcement from a Maine lawmaker.

Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller in February on behalf of Kate Pimental of Kennebunk, Maine, who wanted to enlist but was disqualified because of a tattoo that arched below her collarbone. Pimental, she said, met all other requirements for enlistment but could not obtain a tattoo waiver because of existing regulations.

Because female Marines were not permitted to wear crew-neck undershirts with their uniforms unlike their male counterparts, Pingree said, the regulations unfairly discriminated against some women.

"Male recruits get a waiver when they have a tattoo like Kate's because they can wear a T-shirt that covers it up," Pingree wrote in the letter. "But because the Marine Corps uniform for women is cut lower, the same tattoo on a female recruit effectively keeps her from enlisting. That's not right and it keeps smart, capable women like Kate from being able to serve her country."

But an administrative message quietly released March 10 changed the game for Pimental. The message authorized crew-neck undershirts as well as V-neck undershirts for female Marines, noting that Marines can choose which they prefer in most cases. When a formation or ceremony calls for uniformity, the commander can request that all troops wear the crew-neck undershirt, the message notes.

Male Marines already have the option of wearing the white crew-neck or V-neck undershirt, or no undershirt, beneath their service "C" and dress "D" uniforms, according to the Marine Corps order governing uniform regulations.

A Marine official confirmed the policy update was related to Pingree's request.

"This was a common-sense change and will allow bright, dedicated young women like Kate to serve their country proudly as a Marine," Pingree said in a news release published today. "I don't believe the old policy was intentionally discriminatory, but in the end it prevented women with some tattoos from enlisting when their male counterparts with the same tattoos were allowed to sign up. I'm grateful to General Neller for listening to our concerns and appreciate him acting to quickly change the policy."

Pimental, 20, did not immediately respond to Military.com messages requesting comment. But she was quoted in Pingree's statement expressing excitement over the policy update.

"There is nothing I want more than to be able to serve as a Marine," she said. "And I'm so grateful that Congresswoman Pingree stood up for me and helped get this policy changed."

Her tattoo reads, in a navy-blue script, "Let your smile change the world, but never let the world change you."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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