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Failing test scores aren't the only problem that has caused the military to reject applicants, says former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Another problem is, well, more colorful: tattoos.
While talking about his push to improve public education at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council event Dec. 1, Bush pointed to problems the military has finding qualified applicants.
Bush mentioned a video in which a military official talked about the challenge:
"In the video beforehand, Gen. Dempsey talked about a 25 percent pass rate. Now that’s not just because of the test, that’s also because of obesity, and too many tattoos, to be honest with you, on visible body parts for people that are trying to get into the military. But the pass rate for a high-school-level test to join the military is about 35 percent, I think, or 40 percent at best. These are abysmal numbers."
PolitiFact has previously fact-checked claims about whether obesity and physical fitness have kept applicants out of the military (both true). But we hadn’t explored the role of tattoos in filling the military ranks. We couldn’t resist taking a look.
Each branch of the service sets their own rules about tattoos, but it was the Army’s policy that has drawn the most ink recently from the media.
In March 2014, the Army overhauled its appearance policy, which includes more than two pages of detailed rules about "tattoo, branding and body mutilation."
This led to a rush to get tatted so soldiers could be grandfathered in under the new rules. The Army has a detailed procedure for grandfathering that directs unit commanders to document each tattoo in an official memorandum.
The Army’s policy states that tattoos, regardless of subject matter, are prohibited on certain areas of the body, including the wrists, hands and fingers, as well as the head, face, and neck, defined as "anything above the t-shirt neck line to include on/inside the eyelids, mouth, and ears."
"Soldiers may have no more than four visible tattoos below the elbow (to the wrist bone) or below the knee," the policy says.
So far under the new policy, 2,919 applicants could not process due to tattoos, said Brian Lepley, an Army recruiting spokesman. "Those 2,919 are the ones whose tattoos were so egregious it was highly unlikely a waiver could get through, or the applicant chose not to try a waiver," he said.
In the Army, 193 tattoo waivers for applicants have been granted, while one was rejected and four are pending.
Lepley told us that tattoos are not the No. 1 disqualifier. Medical conditions, drug use, misconduct or some combination of those issues disqualify more applicants.
News reports around the country indicate the tattoo policy is limiting applicants, though.
"Right now, with the new tattoo policy in effect, we currently turn away one in every five applicants that come through our door," U.S. Army Captain Joshua Jacquez told CNN in a report from El Paso.
Maj. Gen. Allen W. Batschelet, head of Army recruiting at Fort Knox, told the Kansas City Star in August that the policy is, "rather arbitrary, in some sense." However he said that "you have to draw the line somewhere" for the Army to present a professional image.
As for waivers, Batschelet said, "To be blunt, the higher quality of applicant you are, the more tolerance we'd probably have for seeking a waiver. If you came in to sign up today and were a neurosurgeon, I got to tell you I'd go a long way toward trying to get an exception if all you had was a disqualifying tattoo."
The Air Force, Marines and Navy also have their own tattoo policies. All of them generally ban tattoos that are obscene, advocate discrimination or express offensive views.
The Air Force policy has a seven-step measurement guide that contains math formulas in an attempt to prevent tattoos from covering more than 25 percent of an exposed body part. (Partial inches should be rounded up to the nearest inch, it says.)
The Marines policy states that applicants with more than four tattoos must be administratively reviewed.
The Navy’s policy is the least detailed -- only 277 words -- though like the other services, it bans head tattoos.
Bush said that among the reasons applicants are rejected by the military -- in addition to being obese or not passing the test -- is that some have "too many tattoos" on visible body parts.
Since the Army updated its tattoo policy earlier this year, 2,919 applicants could not proceed due to tattoos. Other branches of the service also have restrictions on types and locations of tattoos that keep some applicants out of the military.
We rate this claim True.
Wall Street Journal CEO Council forum, Former Gov. Jeb Bush Question and Answer session, Dec. 1, 2014
United States Army, "Wear and appearance of Army uniforms and insignia," Sept. 15, 2014
United States Marine Corps, "Amplification to the Marine Corps tattoo policy," Jan. 15, 2010
United States Air Force, "Air Force Guidance Memorandum to AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel," Aug. 15, 2014
United States Navy, "Tattoo policy," 2006
Virginian Pilot, "Tattoos hold recruits back from military careers," July 21, 2014
Fox News Insider, "Army’s new tattoo policy disqualifying otherwise eligible recruits," June 24, 2014
CNN, "Army considering changes to new tattoo policy," Aug. 29, 2014
KBAK/KBFX, "New military tattoo restrictions concerning to some hopefuls," June 11, 2014
El Paso Times, "100 Army recruits turned away due to new tattoo policy," June 27, 2014
Kansas City Star, "Army easing it's hard line on tattoos for some recruits," Aug. 14, 2014
PolitiFact, "Jeb Bush: Only because I am going to be PolitiFacted," Dec. 2, 2014
PolitiFact, "Michelle Obama says many too fat to fight in the military," Feb. 11, 2011
PolitiFact, "Author Bing West says 75% of young adults in U.S. not mentally or physically fit to serve in military," March 2, 2014
Interview, LCDR Nate Christensen, Department of Defense spokesman, Dec. 2, 2014
Interview, Brian Lepley, U.S. Army Recruiting Command spokesman, Dec. 2, 2014
Interview, Air Force Capt. Brooke Brzozwske, Dec. 2, 2014
Interview, Navy Lt. David Bennett, Dec. 2, 2014
Interview, Jaryn Emhof, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spokeswoman, Dec. 2, 2014
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