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Air Force loosens tattoo rules, recruiting restrictions

January 10, 2017 (Photo Credit: A1C Daniel Hughes/Air Force)
Beginning Feb. 1, the Air Force will no longer enforce its 25 percent tattoo rule, the service announced Tuesday.

Airmen were previously not allowed to have tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs that were larger than 25 percent of the exposed body part. Now, they could have full tattoo sleeves on their arms or large back pieces if they so choose.

Tattoos, body markings or brands on the head, neck, face, tongue, lips and/or scalp are still prohibited, according to an Air Force news release. Tattoos on the hands will be limited to one single-band ring tattoo, on one finger. Airmen who already have hand tattoos that were already authorized will be grandfathered in, according to the release.

The changes result from a tattoo policy review the Air Force began conducting earlier this year.

A review of Air Force field recruiters showed that almost half of contacts, applicants and recruits had tattoos, the release said. One of every five had tattoos that required a review or could be considered disqualifying. By lifting the 25 percent rule, the Air Force opens the population eligible for joining the service.

Tattoos that discriminate or are obscene remain prohibited. 



“As part of our effort to attract and retain as many qualified airmen as possible, we periodically review our accessions policies,” Secretary Deborah Lee James said in the release. “In this instance, we identified specific changes we can make to allow more members of our nation to serve without compromising quality. As a next step in this evolution, we are opening the aperture on certain medical accession criteria and tattoos while taking into account our needs for worldwide deployability and our commitment to the profession of arms."

The Air Force also reviewed medical accession standards, prompting policy changes to waivers concerning common conditions that have disqualified potential airmen. These include eczema, asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Waivers for these three conditions comprise the highest volume of requests from recruiters, the release said.

Air Force candidates who are medically classified as having mild forms of eczema will be processed for a waiver. However, certain restrictions may be applied to secure personal and mission safety.

For asthma, the service will use the methacholine challenge test to provide an objective measure of candidates with an uncertain history of asthma. Candidates who pass this test will receive a waiver.

Recruits who do not meet the standard of never having taken more than a single daily dosage of medication for ADHD or not having been prescribed medication for their conditions for more than 24 cumulative months after age 14 will be processed for a waiver if they have demonstrated at least 15 months of performance stability, without use of medication.

These waiver changes are effective immediately. 

The Air Force also is updating its policy about marijuana use before joining the service. The change removes the numerical limitations on a potential recruit's prior use of marijuana. This means a potential recruit will not be disqualified for service based on how much marijuana he or she smoked in the past.

The old policy was found to not reflect current legalization of marijuana in numerous states, according to the release. Airmen still won’t be allowed to currently use it, but they won’t be asked how many times they had used it in the past.

“We are always looking at our policies and, when appropriate, adjusting them to ensure a broad scope of individuals are eligible to serve. These changes allow the Air Force to aggressively recruit talented and capable Americans who until now might not have been able to serve our country in uniform,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Cody said in the release.

Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations, and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.  
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