Can you join the navy with tattoos? Tattoos are incredibly common amongst the main demographic of American citizens that the Navy recruit from, with estimates suggesting around 1 in 3 people who are between 18 and 25 have at least one tattoo.
Some studies suggest that number is even higher, including those getting multiple tattoos and in areas that would have been considered antisocial. In the past, due to a variety of reasons, tattoos made finding employment with the Navy difficult. Do tattoos show that the Navy man or Navywoman is a reliable and trustworthy member of society? Some people would say no; tattoos make some unreliable and untrustworthy.
This is what all military branches (including the Navy) believed up until recently. But it is very possible that you will be able to join the Navy today because of the changes that were made to recruitment policy in 2016. Now potential recruits can have pretty much any kind of tattoo they want as long as it doesn’t fall under a very small list of examples that are still banned. The list is not exhaustive, however. If you are unsure, ask your recruiter.
What’s wrong with tattoos?
For many people who are over 25, tattoos were seen as something that may make finding employment difficult if they were visible and especially if they were big. For careers such as teachers, law enforcement, and the military, tattoos were seen as something that would stop you from pursuing your dream job.
This is especially true when considering the way tattoos have been and still are used by members of gangs, racist groups, and other organized criminal institutes.
A recent study showed that people with tattoos are perceived as having more “deviant” lifestyle qualities by others, whether they are true or not – more promiscuous, heavy drinkers, smokers, drug users, as well as character judgments like insecurity, less intelligent, and even less honest.
So, there is a stigma against those who have tattoos today and the same study suggested that those who have them are more likely to face employment discrimination.
There’s nothing wrong with having tattoos, usually. Some people will not probably still not feel comfortable when around those with face tattoos or what they consider (rightly or wrongly) to be extremist messages. But we can’t change the way people think about others who like tattoos, especially not overnight.
You live in a world where you have no problem with 47% of people of your age sporting at least one tattoo and maybe you view them as actually being even more trustworthy, creative, and secure. Sadly, the world is still catching up to the change in society’s views of tattoos.
If you have many tattoos, maybe you feel you have faced discrimination because of them. Is this level of discrimination and uneasiness shared in the Navy recruitment process?
Can You Join the Navy with Tattoos?
The Navy and tattoos
In the past, the Military at large (including the Navy) had a policy that made finding employment with them while the applicant had large tattoos. Much like teachers or law enforcement, having small tattoos that could be concealed easily (such as on the upper arm or the back) did not cause many problems.
If the aspiring recruit had a sleeve tattoo (a tattoo that covers the upper and lower arm or a large section of the leg), they would be much likely to be turned down and would probably have to seek employment elsewhere.
The Navy has always wanted to portray to the public that they only employ those of good moral character – the public does not think that people with face tattoos or large tattoos that cover large sections of the body are good people, so the Navy would have to turn them away.
This changed in 2016 when, due to recruitment problems and understanding that the world is a different place from even 10 years prior, the Navy began to loosen its policy on allowing soldiers to serve the country and have tattoos.
Other branches of the military did not change their policy until later, so if you are planning to sign up for another it is best that you do some more research.
Where can I not get tattoos?
The biggest problems for those with tattoos will be if they are showing intolerance or if the tattoos are in the areas which are still not acceptable. These will include tattoos they view as racist, sexist, or any other kind of prejudice against a group (which could include religion, ethnicity, or nationality) as well as tattoos that show gang and extremist symbolism (such as prison tattoo symbols or swastikas).
If you have tattoos containing intolerant messages and do not plan to remove them, you will not be accepted into the Navy.
Only face and head (that’s to say the cranium) tattoos will no longer be allowed. After the 2016 policy reform, there has been a great reform of what is acceptable for Navy servicemen and servicewomen. As long as there is nothing on your face or head, you will likely be able to enlist (or you likely will not be turned down on the grounds of your tattoos anyway).
Regardless of the tattoo and where it is, it will need to be noted down on your service record. Failing to show all tattoos and have them noted (somehow) or acquiring more tattoos while actively serving can cause problems for you.
Although you’re at the mercy and discretion of your commanding officer, it is very possible that you will face disciplinary action for unauthorized tattoos or even (if you have a particularly offensive tattoo) involuntary discharge from service, which can have long term consequences on your life back in civilian society.
New Navy guidelines about tattoos
So what changes were made? Or rather, why were changes made? Due to a low level of enlisting in recent years, the Military has started to loosen and relax its recruitment process. This includes tattoos and the size of them. The most notable change is that multiple or large tattoos below the elbow or knee are now allowed – this includes sleeves and tattoos that cover the wrists and hands.
Despite not being able to cover them in short sleeve or short trouser uniforms, they will not be viewed as a reason for turning someone down. It is now common to find pictures of Navy men and women with tattoos on their forearms in the adverts used by the Navy – if it is good enough for them, it will be good enough for you!
Additionally, one neck tattoo (that is to say, the neck extending up to behind the ear) which is one inch or smaller is also allowed – multiple tattoos will not be allowed and if a tattoo is larger than a single inch in length, height, or both, this will hold back the applicant.
The measuring of a neck tattoo is very strict here – any more than 1 inch on any axis and you will not be able to serve. You will also be able to serve as a recruiter and / or potentially be able to climb the ranks in the Navy, should you wish. According to the Navy, they recognize changes in our society and that to shut people out of employment because they want to have pictures on their skin, then they’d be foolish.
This involves finding employment at a higher rank than foot soldier and possibly very high roles which will require an extensive security clearance.
If any extremist, gang, or intolerant images are a part of these tattoos which are allowed, that is still grounds for being turned away. If you have no intention of removing them, you will not be considered as a potential recruit either.
Although you do have the right to get tattoos of anything according to American law, sexual, violent, and intolerant pictures will not be tolerated by the Navy – they are no longer just a military division, but a brand. They must protect that brand as being one of inclusivity, uprightness, and American ideals.
If a Navy recruit has a tattoo that falls into the above categories or gets one while they are in the Navy after passing any checks, they will possibly face disciplinary action or even involuntary discharge.
I have banned tattoos – can I still join the Navy?
If you have tattoos on your face at all, tattoos which are bigger than the allowed size behind your ear, or ones which are entirely or partially made up with intolerant messages, you will not be able to join up with the Navy (or likely any military branch) as is.
However, there is no background check on any tattoos that an applicant may have had in the past – if you have a tattoo that falls into the above categories, you will increase your chances of being accepted by potentially 100% if you get the tattoo removed.
Also, modifying a tattoo so that the offensive imagery is hidden (not just obscured – if it can be identified, there will no change in the recruitment process) will improve your chances of enlisting in the army.
Robert Gomez was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. He currently lives in Northern California with “the wifey,” “the kids,” “the dog,” and “that cat,” 🙁 He is also a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row. Felonyfriendlyjobs.org was born to help ex-felons get a second chance in life.