Tattoo You? “Look Sharp, Air Force!”

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Should it really take 179 pages [check the update below] to tell the men and women in our Air Force how to dress and groom? Well, according to this week’s release of Air Force Instruction 36-2903 — Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel, it does. “The changes are a result of Airmen in the field requesting clarification, leadership approving more specific policy, and the need to integrate information from the 98th virtual uniform board and other wear policy approved since 2006,” said Ruth Ewalt, the Air Force Uniform Programs and Policies chief at the Air Staff.

The 98th virtual uniform board? Since 2006?

Wonder how many meetings they have to deal with the small stuff, like the strategic nuclear triad? Of course, the service does have to grapple with 21st Century issues like body piercings and maternity blouses (“Military creases are not authorized”). Then there is the sucking-chest wound of military decorum: tattoos. Helpfully, the Air Force now explains how airmen can check to see if their body art passes muster:

Use the following calculation: (all measurements are to be done in inches; partial inches should be rounded up to the nearest inch). Member will be measured standing at the position of attention. If member has multiple tattoos/brands (T/B) that are clearly separate TBs, each will be measured separately and the cumulative size of the TBs cannot exceed one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.

Step 1- Measure the length of the T/B. When measuring a T/B draw an imaginary outline around the border of the T/B to capture all skin within the borders of the T/B. Measure the length from the longest two points.

Step 2- Measure the width of the T/B at its widest point.

Step 3- Multiply length by width to determine total square inches of the T/B.

Step 4- Use Figures 1 and 2 above as a guide to measure the exposed body part (arm, hand, leg).

#1- Measure the length of exposed body part.

Arm: measure bottom of shirt sleeve (includes all combinations of uniform items: rolled up ABU/BDU sleeve, blue shirt, etc.) to the tip of middle finger.

Hand: measure bottom of the long-sleeve shirt to tip of middle finger.

Leg: measure bottom of skirt to top of ankle.

#2- Determine the widest point within the length of the exposed body part. At that point measure the circumference of the exposed body part. For the hand, this includes both sides.

Step 5- Multiply #1 by #2 to determine total square inches of the exposed body part.

Step 6- Divide the total square inches of exposed body part by 4. This figure will be one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.

Step 7- Compare the results of Step 3 and Step 6. If the result of Step 3 is a smaller number than the result of Step 6, the TB does not exceed one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.

(Upon reflection, it does sound a lot like calculating throw-weights.)

Punishment for what the Air Force now defines as “excessive tattoos” can range from modest to, well, nearly thermonuclear. But buried in the fine print is something worth noting: taxpayers will generally pay to erase them: Members who have or receive excessive tattoos/brands/body markings after the date of this publication are required to initiate tattoo/brand removal/alteration (unless authorized to cover). At the commander’s discretion, members may be seen, on a space and resource available basis, in a Department of Defense (DoD) medical treatment facility for voluntary tattoo/brand removal. When DoD resources are not available, members may have the tattoo/brand removed/altered at their own expense outside of DoD medical treatment facilities. Permissive TDY is not authorized for this purpose; therefore, travel is at member’s expense. Members who fail to remove/alter unauthorized tattoos/brands/body markings in a timely manner, or who choose not to comply with appropriate military standards, will be subject to a variety of appropriate quality force actions, including but not limited to reprimand, UIF, control roster, referral EPRs/OPRs, military justice action (Article 15, UCMJ punishment), ineligibility for schools and assignments and administrative discharge. That removal at government expense might not be possible does not change the member’s affirmative responsibility for complying with this AFI or the Air Force’s responsibility to enforce it with any or all available options.

When the Air Force says “all available options,” that means it’s serious.

Update: Publish an item like this, and look what comes in over the transom — uniform regs for the Army (337 pages), Marine Corps, (259 pages) and Navy (389 pages). How do these folks ever get dressed in the morning?