By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.

I will tell you up front that I have a real dislike for tattoos. But the truth is I went through aversion therapy for tattoos at a very early age.

My father is a retired Navy Master Chief. He joined the Navy right off the farm from Iowa. When he reported to his first ship, his shipmates helped him discover the tattoo parlors that surround Naval Bases. My father has tattoos on his arms, legs and even his hands.

I can remember as a very little child discovering these strange markings on his hands and asking him what they were. He very quickly told me they were tattoos and I was never to get one. He continued to reinforce that negative feeling about tattoos the entire time I lived at home.

In my day it was sailors and bikers who got the loud, stand-out tattoos. What I considered normal people did not have tattoos showing in public. Of course all us guys knew that if a woman had a tattoo that was not covered up during her daily activates, well lets just say, us guys knew.

Everybody knew that good girls who got tattoos went for the small rose on the hip or breast where is could only be seen by her man. There was another negative side to tattoos. Number tattoos were what the Nazis forced onto the arms of concentration camp victims.

Tattoos become distorted over time. A good example is the barbed wire tattoo that goes around the upper part of the arm. The actress Pamala Anderson had one done on her arm for the 1996 movie of the same name. So, of course, women all over the country went out and got themselves some Barb Wire.

It is now ten years later and you should see some of those old tattoo jobs. The "barbs" are not that crisp as the skin grows old and starts to sag. Needless to say, I just do not like tattoos, but from what I understand I am going to have to get over my negative reactions to them and it would appear that military may have too also.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 36% of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. Two-thirds of people who get tattoos do it before the age of twenty-four. Since seventeen-to-twenty nine is the primary target age that military recruiters are looking for, the issue of tattoos on troops in uniform is becoming a major stumbling block for bringing new people into the service.

What I, as an old person, might consider anti-social, in-your-face behavior with the sporting of "loud" tattoos, is considered body art by the current generation of young potential Airman, Sailors, Marines and Soldiers. They do not understand why I do not understand their desire to express themselves with a tattoo.

The current problem is, really old people make the rules and run the Air Force and tattoos are not a flying tradition. So restrictions are being placed on new recruits as to the size and location of tattoos.

I was reading the Air Force Academy web site in reference to tattoos. If you are thinking about attending the Academy you need to hold off on any tattoos. You will have all your tattoos photographed during your first military physical and they will meet a review board prior to addmistion to the Academy. The web site tells you that tactfully hidden tattoos will not disqualify you, but a free four year education is very competitive. The Academy advises you that if you do not already have a tattoo, think long and hard about getting one, if you are serious about applying.

Remember, it is those really senior Airmen (read Generals) who make the rules. The Army is easing up on their restrictions of tattoos. We are at war and they need new recruits. When you get a young adult who passed all the tests and meets the requirements to join the military and then you have to turn them away because they have tattoos running down their arms, we the big Department of Defense has a major problem.

Air Force recruiters, both active duty, Guard and reserves, are frustrated by the restrictions that are placed on them in reference to tattoos. But, the Air Force is down-sizing right now, so they can be picky. The battle over tattoos is on going. I do not like them, but we need qualified new recruits.

Back to the Naval & Military History Page

Copyright 2006 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.