Under the Army's new tattoo policy, soldiers will be able to have ink on their arms and legs as long as it isn't visible in the Army Service Uniform.
This means sleeves are once again authorized as long as they don't extend past the wrist, Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey told Army Times.
"As long as it's not visible in the Army uniform … that's the spirit of what we went after," he said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno announced the upcoming policy change Wednesday afternoon at the Association of the United States Army conference in Huntsville, Alabama.
The more lenient tattoo rules are based on input from soldiers, Odierno said.
"Society is changing its view of tattoos, and we have to change along with that," Odierno said. "It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that."
After many Army Times readers questioned the validity of the news — because it was announced on April Fools' Day — Dailey stressed on Wednesday evening that the policy change is real.
"We didn't pick April Fools' Day. It's real," he said. "I have a copy of the AR 670-1 update here."
Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey said the changes the tattoo policy stems from input from soldiers.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
Under the new policy, there are no longer limits on the size or number of tattoos soldiers can have on their arms and legs, Dailey said.
Soldiers are still not allowed to have tattoos on their neck, head, face, wrists or hands. The exception is a ring tattoo on each hand, Dailey said.
Also banned are tattoos that are sexist, racist, extremist and derogatory, he said.
"Those have not changed, regardless of position or location," he said.
The new policy will not take effect until a newly revised version of Army Regulation 670-1 is published. Army officials said they expect the regulation to be official in the "very near future."
Dailey saw firsthand soldiers' frustration with the current tattoo policy during his travels across the force.
The current tattoo regulation was released last March and updated in September. The highly unpopular policy limited to four the number of tattoos soldiers can have below the elbow and knee. It also limited the size of the tattoos to the wearer's hand.
The regulation also initially barred soldiers who ran afoul of the rules from requesting a commission, sparking anger among many soldiers. The September update grandfathered enlisted seeking a commission or appointment, as long as they have their commander's endorsement.
Dailey was surprised how strongly soldiers still objected to the tattoo policy. He found this out during his first troop visit in early March as sergeant major of the Army.
In a Q&A session with soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, one solder stood up and argued that tattoos should be allowed, so long as they are not visible when a soldier is in his dress uniform.
"How many of you agree with that?" Dailey asked the group of about 100 soldiers. Almost all of them immediately raised their hands.
After his session with the soldiers, Dailey told Army Times he was surprised by the soldiers' almost overwhelming opposition to the tattoo policy.
"I thought this had settled quite a bit," said Dailey, who has no tattoos. "Obviously it has not."
He added: "I don't want this to be the deciding factor for a good soldier to get out."
Since his trip to JBLM, Dailey has solicited feedback on the tattoo policy from soldiers at places such as Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
This issue was "something the chief of staff of the Army asked me to take a look at as the new sergeant major of the Army," Dailey said. "This wasn't something SMA Dailey led. The chief has a very good pulse on the force."
What he found when talking to soldiers was they were "still very much concerned," Dailey said.
"This is very much a morale issue for the United States Army," he said.
In his reports to Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh, Dailey said he was "very clear."
"I asked soldiers in a very straightforward way, 'will good soldiers get out as a result of this?'" Dailey said. "That's what I didn't want to happen. I made a recommendation to the Army leadership based upon that."
The new tattoo policy still enables the Army to maintain its standards and discipline, Dailey said.
"I'm very much so in favor of discipline and standards," he said. "I've led many large organizations in combat, and you need discipline and standards. I felt we could come back off that standard [in the current policy] and still maintain in the eyes of the American people the prestige we've earned after 12 years of war and maintain standards and discipline. What we looked at was the cost, or at least the perceived cost, worth the impact?"
Not only were the stricter tattoo rules controversial among soldiers, it also had an impact on recruiting, Dailey said.
"There is a large portion of the American society that has tattoos," he said. "There was a population that we were disqualifying from military service because of this new regulation."
Dailey said the new policy is "the right decision."
"I don't think there was any wrong in the past, I was part of the previous decision, too," he said. "We had gotten too far out of the regulation, but I think what we're doing is appropriate with regards to maintaining the trust and confidence of the American people and maintaining discipline and standards in our great Army."
Change is good, said Dailey, who has been the Army's senior enlisted soldier for only two months but has already made several high-profile changes, from tattoos to enlisted education to a renewed focus on physical fitness and a sweeping sexual assault prevention campaign.
"There was really no intention to do anything other than lead how I've always led," Dailey said. "You've got to lead form the front. You've got to lead with passion. You've got to lead with care."
Leaders who are more informed are less emotional, Dailey said, and leaders need to listen to soldiers.
"Do we have to listen to everything soldiers have to say? No, you don't," he said. "But you do have to listen to soldiers. You still have to be out there with them every day. You've got to be present."
And for those soldiers who still believe this is a prank?
"April 2 comes quick," Dailey said.
Kathleen Curthoys is editor of Army Times. She has been an editor at Military Times for 20 years, covering issues that affect service members. She previously worked as an editor and staff writer at newspapers in Columbus, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Bloomington, Indiana; Monterey, California and in Germany.
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.