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Military dress and appearance standards apply to tattoos and other body alterations

Body modifications such as tattoos, piercings and brandings are governed by Air Force regulations. Before getting any new work done, Airmen should consult the instructions to ensure that they stay within the guidelines while presenting a professional image. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Body modifications such as tattoos, piercings and brandings are governed by Air Force regulations. Before getting any new work done, Airmen should consult the instructions to ensure that they stay within the guidelines while presenting a professional image. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- If it's a Sunday night, you know exactly what the chief is doing, tucked away in his closet, paying attention to every clothing-related detail. Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center Command Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Vegas is aware of his place in the world.

"Every day is a parade," he said, indicating the scrutiny of being in the public eye. As such, his Sunday nights are spent with his uniforms, a tradition he's long maintained.

"My wife will tell you, every Sunday night I spend at least 45 minutes making sure everything is squared away for Monday morning because Monday is Air Force blues day. She complains I hog the iron and ironing board," Chief Vegas said with a laugh.

With two complete sets of service dress uniforms, additional blues pants, countless blues shirts including four pairs of corfam shoes, and at least six Airman Battle Uniforms hanging neatly in the closet, the chief is always dressed to impress.

"Air Force Instruction 36-2618, Enlisted Force Structure, says I am to set the example and be a role model for Airmen to emulate," Chief Vegas said. "I have a responsibility to mentor up and down the chain of command."

While military appearances are a tradition long fostered in the Air Force, it is good practice for Airmen to regularly be reminded of this calling, that's why I encourage commanders to perform uniform inspections, Chief Vegas said.

While he sets the tone for everyone he interacts with, the chief emphasized the need for all Airmen to exceed the appearance standard, as means for the Air Force to continue its history of excellence.

"As Airmen serving in the Air Force, we are part of a professional military combat organization and professional image is important. Our dress and appearance sends a message to our superiors, subordinates and the American people about our good order and discipline," Chief Vegas said.

But the regulations requiring Airmen to maintain that level of professionalism aren't new. And while body alterations like tattoos and body piercings are perhaps more common now than ever, the regulations remain in place so the troops stay looking sharp.

Since 1998 the Air Force has had a basic policy dictating proper procedures for tattoos, piercings and other body alterations, but in 2006 this was updated. The regulations appear in AFI 36-2903, and are comprehensive in their scope. Chief Vegas encouraged all Airmen to be familiar with the regulations, especially if considering getting a tattoo or other body art.

If Airmen do not meet the standard, there are specific reprimands, as dictated by the AFI. Under extreme circumstances, improper body art may also result in action by the Uniform Code of Military Justice's Article 92.

"There's a balance between having your own freedom of expression as an individual and being a professional Airman," Chief Vegas explained. "As long as our Airmen are adhering to the guidance as well as the AFI then they're doing the right thing."

"Each generation tends to push the envelope, early in my career it was hair styles and piercings today its tattoos and branding," Chief Vegas said, while indicating Tinker's military appearances are generally sharp.

"Tinker AFB has some of the sharpest Airmen I've had the honor to serve with. I recently attended a first sergeant meeting where these leaders selected and presented Diamond Sharp Awards to Airmen and noncommissioned officers who exceeded the standard. This type of positive reinforcement sends a clear message that we (leadership) have taken notice that our Airmen are not just meeting the standards but exceed them," he said.