Military Tattoo Policy: The Mathematical Equation
01:40 PM
Tim Kern backpiece.jpg
Tattoo by Tim Kern

The branches of the US military regularly clarify and update their dress and personal appearance policies, but it seems that in the last five years they've been extra busy doing so...98 times since 2006 according to Time's article on Air Force dress codes.
While I personally prefer my soldiers suffer a 30-hour backpiece than bullets, the Air Force seems to get its regulation panties in a bunch over the diameter of visible tattoos. So much so, they've come up with a mathematical equation to figure out what is and what is not acceptable body art. There are even charts!

Get your calculators ready. Here goes:

Use the following calculation: (all measurements are to be done in inches; partial inches should be rounded up to the nearest inch). Member will be measured standing at the position of attention. If member has multiple tattoos/brands (T/B) that are clearly separate TBs, each will be measured separately and the cumulative size of the TBs cannot exceed one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.

Step 1- Measure the length of the T/B. When measuring a T/B draw an imaginary outline around the border of the T/B to capture all skin within the borders of the T/B. Measure the length from the longest two points.

Step 2- Measure the width of the T/B at its widest point.

Step 3- Multiply length by width to determine total square inches of the T/B


Step 4- Use Figures 1 and 2 above as a guide to measure the exposed body part (arm, hand, leg).

#1- Measure the length of exposed body part.

Arm: measure bottom of shirt sleeve (includes all combinations of uniform items: rolled up ABU/BDU sleeve, blue shirt, etc.) to the tip of middle finger.

Hand: measure bottom of the long-sleeve shirt to tip of middle finger.

Leg: measure bottom of skirt to top of ankle.

#2- Determine the widest point within the length of the exposed body part. At that point measure the circumference of the exposed body part. For the hand, this includes both sides.

Step 5- Multiply #1 by #2 to determine total square inches of the exposed body part.

Step 6- Divide the total square inches of exposed body part by 4. This figure will be one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.

Step 7- Compare the results of Step 3 and Step 6. If the result of Step 3 is a smaller number than the result of Step 6, the TB does not exceed one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.


Ok, so what happens if you're bad at math and your tattoos violate policy? Well, you can get a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand. Or they can order full tattoo removal. They'll even pay for removal if there's a budget! Read more here for details. [The article also provides links to PDFs of the full dress code policies for the Army, Marines, and Navy.]

At a time when the Legislature is looking to cap government spending, perhaps we shouldn't be budgeting for tattoo removal or even wasting so much time on the colors in military skin.

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