In these days of political correctness and toleration of diversity, it’s best not to be overly judgmental about what some people like to call “body art.” Personally, I don’t get it: Covering one’s outer skin with pictures of jungle foliage and writing reptiles or wearing nose rings and face studs may just be a generational thing.
Covering one’s body with wallpaper-like illustrations or poking holes in places that nature meant to remain an intact part of your integumentary system — i.e., your skin — seems somewhat similar to the male peacock’s spreading of tail feathers to attract a mate. Except for me, most tattoos and body piercings have rather the opposite, negative and rather more permanent effect. I will admit I’ve see a handful of really cool tattoos that made me cringe when I thought about the pain involved (then what that tat would look like when the wearer became a seasoned citizen)!
And that goes double for the United States Air Force, which, as a military organization naturally tends to be less liberal in its attitude about all that. If you want to join (or stay on active duty with) the Air Force, you should know how the organization feels about its men and women tattooing, branding or piercing what the Air Force considers its temporary property: your body.
To avoid confusion, controversy and loopholes, Air Force uniform and grooming regulations are quite specific. Air Force Instruction 36-2903 [PDF] is chocked full of what you need to know about tattoos that you can wear, and body piercing — other than earrings for women — that you cannot do.
The instruction, among other things, defines a tattoo as…
“…a picture, design, or marking made on the skin or other areas of the body by staining it with an indelible dye, or by any other method, including pictures, designs, or markings only detectible or visible under certain conditions (such as ultraviolet or invisible ink tattoos).”
What about branding?
And don’t think you can get around that by getting a brand burned (ouch!) on your body, because that’s covered. A brand is “a picture [etc.] that is burned into the skin or other areas of the body.”
How about temporary markings?
The instruction covers other temporary body markings that are a “a result of using means other than burning to permanently scar or mark the skin.”
The instruction discusses what body piercing is and then goes on to ban it completely in eye-watering detail:
“With the exception of earrings for women all members are prohibited from attaching, affixing, or displaying objects, articles, jewelry or ornamentation to or through the ear, nose, tongue, eye brows, lips, or any exposed body part (includes visible through the uniform).”
The rules on wearing tattoos, etc., are straightforward and quite sensible.
- They cannot contain any obscene, gang-related or extremist content. They cannot be associated with supremacist organizations or organizations that “advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination.”
- They cannot be excessive. Excessive is defined as markings that exceed one-quarter of the exposed body part.
- They cannot be visible outwardly or through the uniform except the PT clothing.
Because I’m a Veteran I’m asked if I have tattoos — nope. The next question asked is if you have tattoos can you enlist? Sure, you can enlist, but… If you show up at the recruiter’s office or at roll call with an unauthorized tattoo, the Instruction covers what you have to do in its typically stuffy bureaucratic way:
“Members who have or receive unauthorized content tattoos/brands/body markings are required to initiate tattoo/brand/body marking removal/alteration. At the commander’s discretion, members may be seen, on a space and resource available basis, in a Department of Defense (DoD) medical treatment facility for voluntary tattoo/brand/body marking removal.”
If you’re on active duty, in addition to having to undergo the removal routine, you can expect penalties that include disciplinary action — along with the cold, hard stare of your leading NCO (who very well may have his own tasteful USAF tat nestling discretely above his sleeve line).
At *your* service,