Marine tattoo ban is stupid and wrong

The following was written by my friend Patrick Mulroy. I have his contact information if you want it.

Marine Tattoo Ban

As of Sunday April 1st, the Marine Corp will ban large tattoos below the elbow or knee. The new Marine Corps Commandant, General James Conway, believes “tattoos of an excessive nature do not represent our traditional values.” I’d caution the general that sending our Marines to die in an unprovoked war far more painfully violates our traditional values, including President George Washington ‘s cautions against foreign entanglements made in his farewell address.

As an eight year Navy veteran, I am painfully aware of the constant threat of arbitrary decisions from above that waste time and erode morale. This tattoo ban is a dim-witted idea.  Why add another petty stress to already stressed–out Marines being deployed, extended and redeployed in the meat grinders of Iraq and Afghanistan?

One Marine interviewed by the San Diego Union –Tribune said this new edict from on high would factor in his decision on whether on not to re-enlist saying policies like this were ‘slowly chipping away at us.” How can the Marine Corps leadership, in good conscience, institute a pointless policy that demoralizes the troops in time of war?

Understand that all military services currently ban tattoo content that is vulgar or offensive. This new tattoo ban is about the size and placement of tattoos, not content. The Army has recently relaxed it’s tattoo standards to allow ink in previously banned areas, the lower neck and back of the hands. This seems a reasonable concession to service members risking their lives daily under terrible conditions.

This new Marine Corps policy is a major time-waster. Unit commanders will be required to photograph and document current sleeve tattoos on their Marines to ensure new ink is not added. Is this what the American people want their Marines to spend time on prior to dangerous wartime deployments? I’d prefer they conduct training that will hone battle skills and save lives.

Violating the tattoo ban could result in disciplinary action including prison time and a dishonorable discharge. War is an exercise in extreme stress and daily morale challenge. Disciplinary action should be reserved for those who fail that difficult challenge. Let’s not punish our Marines for commemorating a fallen comrade with a forearm tattoo. No General in Marine Corps history has dared to do this, until now. Is General James Conway wiser than Marine Corps icon General Lewis “Chesty” Puller?  Clearly not.

On November 22, 2006, General Conway complained to Congress that the pace of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq was putting “an unacceptable strain on his troops.” I agree. Why add one more petty strain to an organization pushed to the brink? Why deny one more personal choice to Marines who have no say in decisions and policies that will alter their lives and minds forever?

The Marine Corps tattoo ban is stupid and wrong. Any American who respects and admires Marines, their sacrifices, and service should oppose this misguided new policy.

Write, e-mail and fax your Congressman, the Secretary of Defense and the President asking them to reverse the tattoo ban. Let’s return this small personal choice to those who risk everything for our sake.

Patrick Mulroy served for eight years on active duty as a line officer in the U.S. Navy. He depolyed to the Persian Gulf aboard USS Fox (CG -33) in 1988-89 towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war.  He served for several years in the Naval Reserve and now teaches college English and writing in San Diego, California.

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