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  • Army says think about your ink

    New regulations for soldiers isn't slowing the tide of customers at local tattoo shops
  • The U.S. Army on Monday limited the number, location and type of tattoos it will allow on its troops, but that hasn't slowed the steady stream of soldiers seeking ink.
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  • The U.S. Army on Monday limited the number, location and type of tattoos it will allow on its troops, but that hasn't slowed the steady stream of soldiers seeking ink.
    The new regulations are part of a drive to "project a more professional image" in the Army after the Iraq War, a period when services needed recruits and had looser standards around tattoos, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Haymore, a Medford recruiter.
    The Air Force in 2011 updated its standards to prohibit "excessive" tattoos, or those covering more than 25 percent of an exposed body part, such as a forearm.
    "The regulations have always been there, to make tattoos in good taste," Haymore said. "There's always been a ban on neck tattoos and anything hate-related. I haven't seen any problem with acceptance of the new regulations."
    Local tattoo shops report a continuing stream of customers either in the military or about to go in.
    Most of their ink is tasteful, depicting military symbols, such as the eagle-globe-anchor or Devil Dog, both age-old icons for the Marines, said James Carpenter, owner of A Body Mod in Medford.
    "There may be regulations, but we sure tattoo a lot of military people," said Carpenter. "The message of most is spirituality, personal identification or sometimes something just for fun, like a big cheeseburger."
    The new Army rules ban tattoos on head, neck, face, wrists, hands and fingers. No more than four are allowed below knees and elbows and they must be no bigger than the wearer's hand. Sleeve tattoos must stay above elbows. Those in compliance with old regulations will be grandfathered in. However, those out of compliance with the new rules cannot seek a commission.
    But the new regulations are not the tattoo parlor's job to enforce, said Carpenter.
    "We don't care about the regulations," he said. "If they want it, we give it to them."
    However, adds tattooist Grego Peyton, inking a gladiator, if someone seeks the eagle-globe-anchor and hasn't been in the Marines, he won't do it.
    Extremist, racist or gang-related tattoos are banned throughout the military.
    To skirt regulations about profanity, Peyton said, some soldiers have gotten the f-bomb or "infidel" tattooed in Arabic on their forearms so it can be read by an attacking foe while the American is firing a machine gun at them. Others have done the same to the outside of the right hand, he said, so it faces officers during a salute.
    While the Army press release said all soldiers will be inspected for tattoo violations, Carpenter said many seek ink that clearly violates the rules — and that includes officers in the military.
    Some comical favorites, said Carpenter, are Betty Boop, Batman and Superman.
    Perhaps to ensure they can be identified if they're killed in action, some soldiers have asked for dog tags to be tattooed on their ribs, said Mori Samel-Garloff of Mori Ink in Ashland. After discharge, some get patriotic or anti-war tattoos, she said. A Phoenix bird rising from the ashes is often a vet's symbol of rebirth.
    Samel-Garloff has always refused to do any sexist, racist or hateful ink, but notes the more strict rules might find some resistance in the military.
    "It's just another form of control," she said. "You don't have any rights of a citizen when you join, not even the same system of laws."
    If military clients need to get in compliance, Samel-Garloff can enlarge and put a darker image over the inappropriate tattoo, or she sometimes sends them to a plastic surgeon.
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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