Army expands tattoo ban, parlors see increase in removals

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Reporter - Robert Bradfield
Photojournalist - Mark Owen

PADUCAH — The Army National Guard expanded its tattoo ban and tattoo artists are seeing an increase in military recruits removing them from their hands and face.

"We try to talk them out of it but I mean, we've put them on," said Gilea Artis.

She knew from her first box of crayons she wanted to make a living drawing. But these days, she's spending as much time removing tattoos as she is putting them on thanks to the Army's new tattoo ban.

"The recruitment office is sending us a lot of people," she said.

In recent weeks, five recruits have decided to remove their ink because they wouldn't be allowed to serve.

"Right now, we're lasering off quite a few rebel flags and stuff like that," Artis said.

"The tattoos are becoming more and more associated with gangs and extremists activity," said Chief of Army recruiting Michael Taylor.

Just last Friday, the Army updated its standards concerning tattoos and piercings: no tattoos on the hands or face, no exceptions. Taylor said it has cost him a few recruits.

"I would just reconsider it altogether at this point," said Taylor.

Artis said she understands the military's approach and supports a bill from Kentucky State Rep. Ron Crimm's bill requiring tattoo parlors to display a sign warning customers about the Army's ban.

"I look them in the eye and go, 'Where you going to be when you grow up? I mean, you see yourself working somewhere with that big thing's on your neck? I don't think so. I wouldn't hire you and look what I do,'" said Artis.

But she also feels if there is a paying client willing to get marked up, she's willing to draw it up.

"It is freedom of speech. You can do whatever to want but you also reap what you sow," she said.

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