Effective Wednesday (Feb. 1), airmen like Master Sgt. Joseph Rivera and Tech Sgt. Robert Knipfer can roll up their sleeves and remain in regulation dress.
The U.S. Air Force is changing its policy on tattoos and body modifications. As of Wednesday, body art can cover more than 25 percent of a body part and does not have to be covered by uniform, a major departure from previous regulations.
Doing so opens career opportunities for current tattooed airmen and allows a greater base of potential recruits, says a force support squad commander.
The last major change was in 1998. This change reflects changing societal norms, said Major Jeff Elliott, force support squad commander at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
Never miss a local story.
The updated policy allows one tattoo band on one finger of one hand. The head is still an unauthorized area for tattoos. Airmen are barred from tattoos that are related to gangs, extremist and supremacist organizations, or body art that advocates sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination.
Elliott said about half of the contacts and applicants for the Air Force have some kind of tattoo, and 1 in 5 had enough ink coverage that the service would have to review before welcoming the airman into service.
Rivera, who was an Air Force recruiter from 2009 to 2013, said he would have to send photos and take measurements to ensure any tattoo on a recruit did not cover more than 25 percent of a body part.
“A lot of qualified applicants I had to walk down to the Army,” he said.
The relaxed policy is “a great opportunity to get a larger pool of applicants” to the Air Force, Elliott said.
Elliott has tattoos on his back, and he said, “I would get more, but my wife” prefers he doesn’t.
Both Rivera, 37, and Knipfer, 31, came into the Air Force with tattoos, and now have more than either can count.
“It allows a little bit of self-expression,” Knipfer said. At the same time, being part of the Air Force is being part of “the heritage, and that’s awesome” and something he plans to be part of for several more years.
Some special duties within the service have been largely off-limits to those with tattoos, even those falling well within the regulations of placement and size.
Knipher has two full-sleeve tattoos, and his legs are covered. But his back is “an open canvas” ready for the next one, he said.
Because of the ink on his wrists, he had to ask for a waiver to become a training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where basic training takes place. His waiver was denied.
“You’re a great candidate, but …” he said he was told of his tattoos. Since the announcement in mid-January of the policy change, he’s spoken with the training squadron there and is hopeful that he will be reassigned.