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Army tightens rules on hair, tattoos, makeup

Apr. 14, 2012 - 09:41AM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 14, 2012 - 09:41AM  |  
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Senior leaders are putting the final touches on 17 grooming regulation changes that cover everything from tattoos and makeup to cellphones and civilian attire. And soldiers will likely face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if they fail to get squared away.

The pending changes include:

Shorter sideburns.

Soldiers must be clean shaven on and off duty, even during leave.

Women will be allowed to put hair into ponytails during physical training.

Men will be prohibited from wearing cosmetics, to include nail polish.

Women may wear cosmetics "conservatively." That means no unnatural or exaggerated appearance, and no more fake eyelashes. Nail polish will only be worn in service, mess or dress uniforms.

Women's fingernail length will not exceed a quarter of an inch. No fake nails, add-ons or extensions will be authorized.

Tattoos will not be visible above the neck line when the physical fitness uniform is worn. Tattoos will not extend below the wrist line and not be visible on the hands. Sleeve tattoos will be prohibited. (This rule may be grandfathered.)

Soldiers will not eat, drink, smoke, or talk on cellphones while walking.

Army Combat Uniforms will not be commercially pressed; only hand ironing will be authorized.

Bags worn over the shoulder must be black or the color print of the uniform, without logos.

Hair grooming standards will become more restrictive and better defined.

No visible body piercings will be allowed on or off duty. Males will not be allowed to wear earrings at any time. Ear gauging will be unauthorized.

Civilian clothes standards, both on and off post, will be better defined.

No dental ornamentation or gold teeth will be authorized.

Soldiers will be authorized to wear authorized ballistic eyewear in garrison.

Officers will be authorized to wear nonsubdued rank on their headgear in garrison.

Men will be authorized to carry a black umbrella with the Army Service Uniform.

The pending changes are part of a comprehensive review of Army Regulation 670-1 led by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler. While some soldiers have voiced opposition to such changes, Chandler has reiterated that his goal is to project a uniform and professional Army.

"You chose to join the Army," Chandler said. "The Army didn't choose to join you."

Final tweaking will take place later this month when Chandler meets with his board of directors, which is composed of key command sergeants major. Final approval must come from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Secretary John McHugh.

The chief is aware of all proposals, and his questions and comments thus far have focused on the issue of enforcement, Chandler said.

The new rules are neither a part of drawdown nor a tool of attrition, the sergeant major said. Instead, this is a concerted effort to project professionalism in the Army uniform and brand, and give soldiers the tools they need to educate troops and enforce the standards.

Administration and legal experts are scouring the list for legality and context. Chandler said changes must be feasible, affordable and reasonable. Some changes are not clear, as leaders have yet to determine whether a new rule is needed, or regulations can instead be better defined.

Sideburns are one example. Some soldiers have "pushed the envelope" with pointy tips and mutton chops that would make Elvis envious. Leaders responded with a new regulation that would not allow sideburns to extend below the spot where your ear connects with your head. Chandler wants to know whether that extreme is necessary, or whether clarity and stronger enforcement of the current regulation could solve the problem.

Other changes are easier to define. Chandler gave an example of a senior sergeant major who dyed her eyebrows blond. She was black, and this was clearly not her natural hair color. Another soldier tried to convince the SMA that her purple hair was actually auburn a natural color and therefore acceptable.

This much is certain: The Army will demand greater education and enforcement of the rules, new and old.

Tattoos in the spotlight

Rules regarding civilian attire are also under scrutiny. New regulations could follow the Marine Corps' example and put defined rules on what you can and must wear when off duty. Or the Army could frame this matter as professional development, and thus convey an expectation of how a soldier should look.

But you can expect, at the least, tighter restrictions on what you wear on post.

"Bathing suits and midriffs are not OK in the post exchange and commissary," Chandler told a gathering of 600-plus soldiers at Fort Jackson, S.C., earlier this year. "I don't want to see all that."

He has been equally vocal on the issue of tattoos, especially those above the neck line or containing vulgarities.

"The appearance of tattoos detracts from a uniformed service," Chandler told the Fort Jackson soldiers. "The uniformed services, we all generally look the same. Now, if you have a tattoo that draws attention to yourself, you have to ask the question, are you a person who is committed to the Army? Because the Army says you are part of the same organization. We all generally look the same. And we do not want you to stand out from the rest of the Army. Yes, we want you to set yourself apart and do great things and so on, but that does not mean tattooing yourself or doing other extreme things that draw attention to you, the individual. You are part of something larger."

Chandler listed a number of examples of inappropriate tattoos he has seen in the past nine months. Every one was on a noncommissioned officer who was inked while on active duty.

While waivers allowed some people to enter with tattoos of this nature, soldiers have never been allowed to get them while on active duty.

Even worse in Chandler's eyes is the fact that none of the soldiers he used as examples were counseled for their error.

Chandler, and many other senior leaders, said these tattoos should be removed if the soldier wants to remain on active duty.

Whether the leaders have a legal leg to stand on remains to be seen. But soldiers with these tattoos could face punitive action if a new policy is not grandfathered.

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