Tattoo rules in Army affecting soldiers' careers
POSTED: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 8:53pm
UPDATED: Monday, June 23, 2014 - 8:17am
El Paso, Texas (KTSM) — From fingernail polish to sideburn length, soldiers will have to get a makeover of sorts to stay employed as the U.S. army updates its uniform policy.
There's one rule about to be inked that is affecting some soldiers' careers.
For Robert Wertz, it was one factor in his decision to leave the army.
"I did 7 years and I was a staff sergeant when I got out," he said.
Wertz was an E-6, and says he moved up the ranks fairly quickly. Yet his love for tattoos, and new rules set to take effect in the Army, were at odds.
Of the new rules, soldiers can now have no more than four total tattoos, the size of their hand, below their elbows or knees.
If soldiers already had more, they could stay enlisted, but now cannot apply for a promotion to be a commanding officer.
For Wertz, the rule meant his career in the military was no longer looking bright.
"I don't think it's okay for anyone to be judged by their tattoos," he said. "(The U.S. Army is) going to miss out on a lot of people just because they have some ink on their skin."
That may be part of the Army's goal, as it draws down its forces from the surge in 2006.
"We had to grow our army and we had to increase it by anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 personnel, so in order to do that we had to relax some of the standards we had back then," said Fort Bliss spokesman Lt. Col. Lee Peters.
They are standards that are now being raised again.
"One of our basic fundamentals is good order and discipline and maintaining that professional appearance," said Peters.
Wertz is calling it discrimination. Maybe not of the color of his skin, but the color of the ink on his skin.
"I can go out and hold a sign that says anything I want on it because of the freedom of speech, so why not get something written on my body? Freedom of speech."
The Army will enforce the rule by photographing soldiers' tattoos. The photo will be put in their personnel file.
Then, each year, their company commander will have to perform a physical check to make sure soldiers are in compliance.