A memo posted online suggests the Air Force may revise its tattoo policy to allow Space Force recruits to have neck tattoos. Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash.
“In space, no one can see your neck.”
Such is how one Facebook commenter summed up a puzzling recruiting memo from the Department of the Air Force dated May 13. The memo was shared on the popular Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco and outlines allowing future recruits for the Space Force, the newest independent military branch, to have 1-inch neck tattoos. But it forbids neck tattoos for Air Force recruits.
The updated policy would also allow recruits in both branches to have tattoos on their hands, provided the tattoos cover no more than 25% of their hand. Recruiters and commanders would be expected to review tattoos to make sure they are the appropriate size and do not violate any content restrictions.
The memo may have been released prematurely, however. The new guidance does not appear anywhere on either the Space Force or Air Force website, and a Space Force spokesperson would only tell Coffee or Die Magazine that the branch “expects to publish updated grooming and uniform guidance in the next several weeks.”
The Air Force did not respond to Coffee or Die’s request for comment. An April 12 update to the Air Force’s official manual for dress and appearance, DAFI36-2903, does include language similar to that in the memo allowing for recruiting waivers for hand tattoos for “exceptionally qualified applicants” in critical specialties. Neck tattoos are not mentioned in the manual.
Space Force recruits with neck tattoos are not authorized to dual track with the Air Force or list any Air Force specific job in their preference tab, according to the memo.
The rationale behind the neck tattoo rule may not be the only unclear part of the new policy. Under the neck tattoo section, labeled “USSF only,” the allowable locations of a 1-inch neck tattoo are described with a series of directions that come across as, well, slightly orbital:
“The tattoo will not be located on the front of the neck from a vertical line drawn from the beginning of the opening of the ear orifice, around the neck to a vertical line drawn from the beginning of the other opening of the ear orifice. The neck tattoo will only be placed behind a vertical line at the opening of the ear orifice around the back to a vertical line at the opening of the other ear orifice.”
Got all that?
Many commenters on social media speculated that the possible policy change is a desperate attempt to increase recruiting numbers. The Air Force, like all other branches, has struggled to bring in enough recruits in recent years. Unprecedented cash bonuses and more relaxed tattoo and grooming standards are two of the carrots the military appears to be dangling in front of prospective troops.
The Space Force is, at least administratively, similar to the Marine Corps, in that both are fully independent military branches with their own uniforms, bases, jobs, PT tests, and chains of command all the way up to their own four-star general on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But just as the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy in the Pentagon organization, so the Space Force falls under the Department of the Air Force.
Last fall, the Marine Corps loosened its tattoo policy, allowing current and prospective Marines to get inked from shoulders to toes — with the exception of their hands, which may have only a single thin band tattooed on one finger of each hand.
Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.
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