Marine Considered ‘Unfit’ to Re-Enlist Due to Rifle Tattoo

‘When I was in Afghanistan my tattoos never stopped me from keeping Marines safe'

April 20, 2015

A decorated Marine was considered "unfit" to re-enlist for getting a rifle tattoo on his forearm.

The Marine Corps Times reported on Sgt. Daniel Knapp’s story on Monday, a Marine who received combat medals after serving in Afghanistan. Knapp was denied re-enlistment due to the service’s strict tattoo policy.

Knapp, who is assigned to Camp Lejeune's 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, was denied re-enlistment by Marine Corps headquarters despite a policy waiver endorsed by leaders within his parent command, the 2nd Marine Division. So now, while the rest of his battalion is deployed to Europe as part of a crisis-response force, Knapp is sidelined in the States.

Knapp's predicament highlights a generational disconnect on attitudes towards ink and what Marines say is the need for lax regulations that reflect changing societal perceptions of tattoos. When paired with a widespread lack of understanding among the rank-and-file of lengthy tattoo regulations, the service is losing many otherwise-good Marines. Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said during a recent trip to Japan that the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps would lead a review if policy, but if the effort would lead to changes remains unclear, for now.

"When I was in Afghanistan," Knapp told Marine Corps Times, "my tattoos never stopped me from shooting anyone, and they never made me more of a target. They never stopped me from keeping Marines safe. On patrol nothing ever happened because of my tattoos."

Knapp had several tattoos while he was in the Marine Corps, but the tattoo he got on his forearm after he left—a pair of crossed rifles and 0311 designation for Marine riflemen—cost him his chance at reenlisting. At issue was the size and placement of the tattoo.

Knapp served two deployments in Afghanistan. He received a meritorious promotion to corporal and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for combat valor, two meritorious masts, two certificates of commendation, four expert rifle badges, and certification as a black belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor, according to the report.

Knapp also was a "Tier 1 Marine," scoring in the top 10 percent in fitness, marksmanship, and job performance.

While the Army recently weakened its tattoo policy, the Marine Corps has not updated its policy since 2010. Sleeve tattoos are banned, as are tattoos visible in the PT uniform larger than the size of the Marine’s hand.

The Marine Corps Times noted that "many" Marines are being denied re-enlistment as the service is transitioning to a post-war active-duty force.

"Still, as the Corps draws down, officials have been clear that they intend to keep some good Marines — even those with documented problems such as an unauthorized tattoo," the report said.

Published under: Joseph Dunford , Military