Marine Commandant Opens Up About Controversial Tattoo Policy

Lifestyle

Editor’s Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.


It's a fact of life: Marines love their tattoos. And despite updates to regulations in 2016 that clarified rules and gave troops slightly more flexibility on where they can put their ink, some still complain that the Corps is too restrictive, keeping out some potential recruits and resulting in denied reenlistment for others.

Some services are making dramatic changes in order to improve recruiting among millennials. The Navy in 2016 adapted the military's most lax tattoo rules, changing its policy to allow neck tattoos, sleeves, and even tattoos behind the ears. By contrast, Marine Corps rules remain relatively restrictive, barring full sleeve tattoos and limiting the size of ink designs that wrap around an arm or leg.

In an interview with Military.com in December, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller revealed the one thing that would prompt him to reconsider current tattoo restrictions.

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

And he asks recruiters about the matter regularly, he said. Neller said he has a practice of approaching recruiters at national meetings and inquiring if they have trouble making monthly quotas because they have to turn away prospective recruits with tattoos. So far, he said, he has always been told that recruiters are making mission, even with regulations in place.

"So do we lose certain applicants? Yes. But [recruiters] can make it? Yes," Neller said.

Neller said he's not concerned with being a stickler, and doesn't want to deny applicants who are just over the line, with a tattoo that falls a quarter inch into a no-ink zone or a word hidden under a watch band.

That said, he's not inclined to give in on one of the most common requests from inked-up Marines.

"I'm not doing sleeves; I'm not," he said. "My wife [D'Arcy Neller] disagrees with me, she thinks I'm stupid. She says, 'How can you judge them on their ink?' I said, 'I don't judge them; I just don't want them being Marines.'"

There have been times in the past when commandants' spouses have swayed them on matters of personnel policy. In 2014, then-commandant Gen. Jim Amos reversed his unpopular decision requiring Marines to wear their sleeves rolled down, saying his wife, Bonnie Amos had "beat the crap out of him" over the matter.

In this case, though, Neller said it goes to the identity and image of the Marine Corps.

"This is not an episode of [History Channel show] Vikings, where we're tattooing our face. We're not a biker gang, we're not a rock and roll band. We're not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine," Neller said. "You can get 70 percent of your body covered with ink and still be a Marine. Is that enough?"

This article originally appeared on Military.com.

More from Military.com:

Veterans are pushing back against a Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which a woman with no military experience argued that women do not belong in combat units.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump was reeling from sharp rebukes at home and abroad over his surprise announcement last month to immediately pull American troops out of Syria when he flew into the al Asad airbase in neighboring Iraq the day after Christmas.

Inside a canvas Quonset hut, one of the arced prefabricated structures used by the military and surrounded by concertina wire, Trump received operational briefs from U.S. commanders suggesting a territorial victory against Islamic State was within sight, but the military needed just a bit more time, U.S. officials said.

Read More Show Less
Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Ferdinando

The Coast Guard's top officer is telling his subordinates to "stay the course" after they missed their regularly scheduled paycheck amid the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

In a message to the force sent Tuesday, Adm. Karl L. Schultz said both he and the Department of Homeland Security Secretary remain "fully engaged" on the missing pay issue, which have caused "anxiety and uncertainty" for Coasties and their families.

Read More Show Less

After years of frequent mechanical failures ad embarrassing cost overruns, the Navy finally plans on deploying three hulls from its much-derided Littoral Combat Ship fleet by this fall after a protracted absence from the high seas, the U.S. Naval Institute reports.

Read More Show Less