Potential Army recruits turned away due to tattoos

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Hundreds of would-be Army recruits are being turned away because of a new, stricter tattoo policy.

"Since its implementation, here in Phoenix alone, that's over 300 applicants, or potential applicants that have been disqualified because of their tattoos," said Army Major Tyler Stewart.

That's an average of 27 Phoenicians a week since the policy went into effect at the end of March.

Now the Army is trying to get the word out about the stricter rules.

"This is an education campaign on our part to ensure everyone in the community knows what's going on with the new restrictions so that they do not make a decision they later would regret because it disqualifies them from the Army," said Major Stewart.

Here's how the Army is cracking down on its future soldiers' ink: under the stricter policy, you can only have four tattoos below your elbows and knees and they have to be small enough to be covered by your own hand.

"They cannot be extremist or in some other way against good order and discipline," the Major said.

Also, there are no tattoos allowed on the head, face, neck, wrists, hands or fingers.

The Army says it's about looking professional and consistent in the uniform.

If you are already in, you are in the clear. "There are no penalties, it's not retroactive," he said.

As for how it could affect recruiting efforts going forward, the Army is not saying for sure, only acknowledging that it might.

"It has that potential," said Major Stewart.

In the meantime, some would-be recruits are opting to have their tattoos removed.

Dr. Richard Burgmeier of Perfect Skin Laser Center says he sees a number of patients looking to get their tattoo removed strictly so they can join the military.

"They thought it was a great idea at the time, and then a year later find out they can't get in the military," he said.

Unfortunately though, he says a lot of them don't realize how long a process it really is.

"It scabs up, it peels, sometimes takes a week or two to heal and you have to come back initially every four to six weeks," said Dr. Burgmeier.

Depending on the tattoo, that process could take up to a year to complete and can be pricey, up to $250 a session.

For its part, the Army offers no assurance that getting that ink removed will ink you an Army contract.

"No guarantees if you have the tattoo removed that it's going to remove that dis-qualifier," said Major Stewart.