Navy Reminds Sailors to Adhere to Body Modification Policy

Story Number: NNS070622-25Release Date: 6/22/2007 2:53:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (AW) Paul DeLaughter, National Naval Medical Center Public Affairs

BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- The trend of body modification is becoming popular among America's youth, so Navy Uniform Matters Office clarified what is, or isn't, acceptable for service members.

According to the Navy Uniform Regulations, any mutilation of the body is prohibited. Mutilation is defined as the radical alteration of the body, head, face or skin to create an abnormal appearance. The regulations also restrict dental ornamentation.

Tattoos are becoming less taboo in our society. More extreme examples of self expression -- scarification and mutilation -- are also becoming mainstream.

"Branding, scaring and forking-the-tongue are all forms of mutilation and are not authorized, period," said Robert Carroll, the top official for the Navy Uniform Matters Office, which is based at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va. "If it was pre-existing [prior to military service] and it doesn't represent gang affiliation or something of that nature, then it can be waived."

Carroll said many fraternities use brands as part of the initiation process. Fraternity brands, he said, account for many of the Navy's scarification waivers.

"I got the letter 'E' branded on my arm as a tribute to my godbrother when I was 12 years old. He was murdered back home in Alabama," said Hospitalman Robert Solomon who works in Bethesda's Staff Education and Training Department. "Because I was only 12 years old, I couldn't get a tattoo. So, I had a friend brand me."

Solomon said he chalks up his permanent scar to youth, but if he had been more mature, he would have chosen another way to honor his family member.

The Navy Uniform Regulations Manual gives several examples of mutilation:
* Forking the tongue
* Enlarged or stretched holes in the ears
* Foreign objects under the skin that create a design or pattern
* Intentional scarring
* Intentional burns
* Dental ornamentation

Navy regulations say body piercings are prohibited while in uniform, working in any Navy-related capacity or while on any military property. Women, however, are allowed to wear one ball-studded earring in each ear.

"I had a few piercings when I was younger, but had to remove them once I joined the service," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Nancy Corbett, who works in Bethesda's Active Duty Medical Records Office. "I think piercings and tattoos are just a way for people to express themselves."

Today, however, many teenagers and 20-somethings are expressing themselves through large, stretched ear holes and titanium inserts that create unique patterns under the skin.

"People are into this trend of getting implants that make them look like creatures from Star Trek or something. Uniform regulations state [the Navy] does not adapt to trends," Carroll said. "Some people may say that tattoos are trendy, but we can trace tattoos back to Sailors on wooden ships."

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