The Marine Corps has released a new tattoo policy that seeks to balance the personal desires of Marines with high standards of professional military appearance and heritage. The Marine Corps Bulletin 1020, released June 2, 2016, explains the new Marine Corps tattoo policy, which replaces all previous tattoo policy guidance.
“The Commandant and I have been talking with Marines throughout the Corps during our visits and we’ve taken their questions and comments to heart because it continues to be important to Marines,” said Sgt. Major Ronald L. Green, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. “The Commandant said it best in the Marine Corps Bulletin in that we’ve attempted to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession. I think we have accomplished just that with MCBUL 1020. We took the time we felt this policy deserved, we wanted to make sure we got it right.”
Any tattoo, regardless of where it is cannot express sexism, nudity, racism, vulgarity, or anything that is offensive and is of nature to bring discredit to the Marine Corps or damage the nation’s expectations of them.
Marines can have an unlimited number of tattoos that are covered by the properly fitting standard physical training uniform: green t-shirt and green shorts.
Marines are prohibited from getting tattoos on the head, neck, inside the mouth, wrists, knees, elbows and hands with the exception of a single band tattoo of no more than three-eighths of an inch in width on one finger.
“The Commandant put a lot of time and effort into the development of this policy, he personally wanted to ensure Marines knew they were being listened to and that their opinions matter and will be taken into consideration,” said Green. “He’s allowed more skin area for tattoos in an effort to balance the Marine’s desires with the Grooming Standards of the Marine Corps. He wanted the policy to allow Marines freedom and flexibility to express themselves, while also being clearly written and understandable for both Marines and their leadership.”
Under MCBUL 1020, there is now official ways to measure tattoos to make sure Marines are in compliance. There are two measurement tools that can be used, which are the elbow-measuring tool and knee-measuring tool.
Along with that Marines will use their own hands in order to measure how big the visible portion of a tattoo may be. If a single tattoo exceeds the bounds of the individual Marine’s hand then it is prohibited.
Everything has been simplified and made so that Marines will not have any questions regarding where and how big tattoos can be.
“The Commandant and I have reviewed the policy alongside other Marine Corps leadership, we even showed Marines the framework along the process,” said Green. “With their input and our review, we feel this policy is well-balanced and is best suited for the individual Marine as well as the entire Marine Corps Team.
“There is a reason why Marine Corps Recruiting has remained so successful throughout the years, when you ask Marines why they chose the Corps, most will tell you because they wanted to be different. They wanted to be part of something bigger than self. They wanted to be a part of a brotherhood.”
The bulletin mainly covers the standards for visible tattoos, which are tattoos that can be seen outside of the properly fitting pt uniform.
Marines may have band tattoos. Band tattoos are tattoos, which fully encircle the circumference of the body part. They cannot exceed three inches or the width of an individual Marine’s four fingers joined, the second knuckle of the index finger to the first knuckle of the pinky finger.
A band tattoo counts as a single allowable tattoo. Only the visible portion of the band tattoo has to be within those standards.
Visible upper arm tattoos may extend down and around the arm on all sides no closer than two inches above the center of the elbow but must not be larger than the individual Marine’s hand with their fingers extended and joined with the thumb flush against the side of the hand.
Marines can get only one lower arm tattoo, which has to be at least one inch below the center of the elbow and two inches above the wrist bone. Marines are allowed either an authorized band tattoo, a single tattoo or a collection of tattoos which can be covered by the individual Marine’s hand with their fingers extended and joined with the thumb flush against the side of the hand.
Visible upper leg tattoos may extend down and around the leg on all sides no closer than two inches above the center of the knee when the leg is straight but must not be larger than the individual Marine’s hand with their fingers extended and joined with the thumb flush against the side of the hand.
Marines can get only one lower leg tattoo, which has to be at least two inches below the center of the knee. Marines are allowed either an authorized band tattoo, a single tattoo or a collection of tattoos which can be covered by the individual Marine’s hand with their fingers extended and joined with the thumb flush against the side of the hand.
Slacks must be worn instead of the skirt if tattoos on the legs or feet are visible in the Service A, Dress Blue A/B, Blue-White Dress A/B, or Evening Dress uniforms.
Officers may have no more than four tattoos visible in the standard PT uniform. Enlisted Marines will have to comply with this standard if they are seeking acceptance in an officer program.
Marines will be able to serve on special duty assignments, such as recruiting duty, Marine security guard duty, drill instructor duty, Marine security force duty and Marine combat instructor duty, if they are in compliance with the standards listed in this bulletin regarding visible tattoos. If Marines have tattoos that are not in compliance with this bulletin but are already on assignment or have gotten orders for SDA they will finish their tour but will not be able to do another one.
“Marines should understand that violating any policy has consequences and leadership will hold Marines accountable accordingly,” said Green. “As Marines we hold each other accountable, just as we are expected to protect one another.”
Any Marine who has already been grandfathered will not be affected by the bulletin.
Within 120 days after the release of this MCBUL all commanders must ensure Marines document their tattoos if not in compliance with new policy AND have not been documented before hand. Tattoos not in compliance with the new policy will be documented on a page 11 of the Marine’s Electronic Service Record. The purpose for the page 11’s is only for documentation and is not a disciplinary action.
Commanders should educate all Marines within their command as soon as possible. Marine should be looking at the new bulletin, printing out the measurement tools or using a standard office ruler when going to get a new tattoo.
“It is up to the individual Marine to ensure that their tattoos are reviewed and ultimately up to their leadership to make sure that it happens and is conducted properly,” said Green. “We owe that to each other to make sure it’s done right.”
By Cpl. David Staten