Army lightens up on tats

Bending a bit to youthful trends, the Army says it will allow soldiers to sport tattoos on formerly forbidden body spots — the hands and the back of the neck.

While the face and head are still out as tattoo sites _ sorry, Mike Tyson, but welcome, Dave Navarro _ just about every other patch of skin can now be adorned with body art, albeit only that which is not “extremist, indecent, sexist or racist,” according to Army regulations.

Previously, tasteful tattoos were allowed on most parts of the body, so long as they were not visible when wearing the “Class A,” or service dress, uniform.

The Army says the change stems from the service’s recognition that the MTV generation, and those coming next, are increasingly fond of decorating their bodies with the permanent ink etchings. Given that they are the same population the Army is trying to recruit into its ranks, the brass decided to relax the rules.

“The change was made because Army officials realized the number of potential recruits bearing skin art had grown enormously over the years,” according to ARNEWS, an online, in-house Army publication.

The article cited a 2003 Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University survey that found about 28 percent of Americans under 25 say they have tattoos. Of those aged 25 to 34, the percentage is about 30 percent.

The survey also found that young adults are 10 times more likely to sport permanent skin illustrations than are members of their parents’ generation.

Experts on the military said the amended rules _which also give the green light for permanent eyeliner, eyebrows or other “conservative” indelible makeup to be worn by women soldiers _ are another example of the armed forces attempting to evolve with the times.

They reflect the balancing act all the U.S. military services must perform when upholding the core military value of uniformity in the ranks while also allowing the troops to retain some individuality and reflecting changes in civilian culture, experts say.

“If norms change, the military has to adapt to the changes or get left behind, said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland and director of the Center for Research on Military Organization.

The Air Force recently demonstrated its own cultural evolution. Bowing to the ubiquity of cell phones _which once were totally banned when in uniform _ the service now says they can be carried in the hand or clipped to the left side of the waistband or purse.

But the Air Force says the line remains drawn when it comes to walking while talking on the devices _ that is still banned.

The Army has drawn its own line _ literally _ on neck tattoos. On-skin designs are allowed only on the back of the neck, which is defined as beginning behind an imaginary line straight down and back of the jawbone.

(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)