Last Friday, the Marine Corps announced a revised policy on tattoos, once again allowing ink on the arms and legs — but at the same time expanded its definition of what it considers “extremist.”
In Marine Corps Bulletin 1020 issued on October 29th, extremist tattoos are defined as:
"affiliated with, depicting, or symbolizing extremist philosophies, organizations, or activities. Extremist philosophies, organizations, and activities are those which advocate racial, gender, or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in unlawful discrimination based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity; advocate violence or other unlawful means of depriving individual rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal or state law; advocate, engage in, or support terrorism; advocate, engage in, or support the forceful, violent, unconstitutional, or otherwise unlawful overthrow of the government of the United States, any state, commonwealth, district, or territory of the United States; or advocates, engages in, or encourages military personnel or DoD or US Coast Guard civilian employees to violate laws or disobey lawful orders or regulation for the purpose ofdisrupting military activities."
So a “Let’s Go Brandon” tattoo is probably a no…
In addition, tattoos which are considered drug-related, gang-related, obscene or indecent, sexist, or racist are also prohibited.
Marines may have tattoos on any area of the body, excluding the head, neck, and hands (other than one thin band on one finger of each hand). The bulletin also specifies that no matter what, there are future career implications regarding the application of tattoos and a tattoo “not specifically prohibited may still prevent future duty assignments.”
The new policy reverses a 2007 decision which prohibited so-called “sleeve” tattoos which began appearing more and more on Marines during the Iraq war, which led to a review of policy in 2006.
John L. Estrada, who served as the 15th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps when the sleeve tattoo ban went into effect said “Marines always had tattoos – let’s not get that wrong. But it was not as extreme until we noticed it popping up during the last war, the invasion of Iraq, which I participated in. The consensus with the leadership back then was that we needed to put this in check because it took away from the appearance of professionalism of Marines.”
Speaking to Task & Purpose last week before the latest changes to the tattoo policy had been announced, Estrada said he opposed allowing Marines to have sleeve tattoos again – a move which he said would be tantamount to “retreating.”
“We are evolving on race; we are evolving on diversity and everything else – this is not evolving on professionalism if that’s what’s going to happen here,” Estrada said. “We’re going to be taking a step backwards.”
But clearly not everyone in the Marines agrees.
Brian Davenport, was denied reenlistment because of his tattoos. In 2017 he felt the Marine Corps had suddenly determined his combat experience in Afghanistan no longer mattered.
“You had leaders saying, ‘We don’t care that you’re a combat veteran,’” Davenport said at the time. “I had a second lieutenant, he was brand new and he’s like: ‘No one cares about Afghanistan. That’s over. We’re moving on. There’s a new Marine Corps.’”
So now sleeves are back.
And while Marines make it very clear where tattoos may not appear, it’s not so clear what they may not say. Thoughts?