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Admin Change Streamlines Re-Entry of Marines With Out-of-Regs Tattoos

While rules governing when exceptions can be made to tattoo standards aren't changing, the way cases involving tattoos that fall outside guidelines are processed is. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Salju K. Thomas)
While rules governing when exceptions can be made to tattoo standards aren't changing, the way cases involving tattoos that fall outside guidelines are processed is. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Salju K. Thomas)

A new tweak to Marine Corps policy will reduce paperwork for re-enlisting Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve who have tattoos that fall outside regulations.

The change was shared late last month with career planners and recruiters who work with prior-service Marines, said Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs. It came via a total force retention system, or TFRS, message, used to share policy updates pertaining to recruiting and retention.

While rules governing when exceptions can be made to tattoo standards aren't changing, the way cases involving tattoos that fall outside guidelines are processed is.

Previously, a Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve looking to go back on active duty would have to complete a tattoo screening request, endorsed by Marine Corps Headquarters, for any undocumented tattoos that don't comply with policy.

Now, he or she can simply submit a Page 11 administrative counseling form related to the tattoos. Any tattoos that have not been documented during prior service, have not been grandfathered in according to regulations, and fall outside current guidelines require a Page 11 form. This would be created, Carlock said, when a Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve visited a recruiter to begin the process for return to active duty.

"They said, 'Let's reduce that back-and-forth. Just send me the Page 11,' " Carlock said. "That was what this message was. Let's streamline it."

The change is not, however, the more-lenient tattoo policy that some hoped for.

After receiving the TFRS message, one recruiter made a public post on Facebook announcing newly relaxed policy standards.

"There is no telling how long this is good for but at this moment we can bring "out of regs" Marines to the reserves ... this may be the chance to update your training records (promotion) get on some Tricare, make some money, and earn some points towards retirement!!" the recruiter wrote.

That post has since been removed; Carlock said it was erroneous.

"There was no change to tattoo policy. There was a change to the process," she said.

In a December interview, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com he had no plans to relax the current policy. Marines are still not allowed to get full sleeve tattoos, and there are size limits on tattoos that wrap an arm or leg. Tattoos on the neck, face and hands are also all out.

The most recent tattoo policy change was made in 2016 under Neller. It eased up on some regulations, allowing Marines to get "wedding ring" finger tattoos, and clarified other guidelines. It also gave Marines 120 days to get noncompliant tattoos documented in their personnel file.

Since then, Carlock said, no active-duty Marines have been forced out of service as a result of their tattoos.

"If the recruiters came to me and said, 'We can't make mission with this [tattoo] policy,' I would have to go back and look," Neller said.

But, he added, that hasn't happened so far.

"This is not an episode of [History Channel show] Vikings, where we're tattooing our face," Neller said in the December interview. "We're not a biker gang, we're not a rock-and-roll band. We're not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine."

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

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