- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

NORFOLK (AP) — Retired Navy Master Chief T.C. Oneyear has about 100 tattoos on his body, including the names of every ship that he sailed on during his 30-year career and the traditional sailor’s tattoo of “Hold Fast” inked across the fingers of both hands.

“If I had to do it all over again, would I get as many?” said Master Chief Oneyear of Weeksville, N.C. “Probably not, but I would still get them.”

Not in today’s Navy.

To present a more professional and conservative appearance, the service a few years ago restricted the location, number, type and size of the tattoos, as well as the statements that sailors and enlistees may make with their tattoos.

No ink on the head, face, neck or scalp. No tattoos relating to gang or hate-group membership. No more than five tattoos, and they may not cover 25 percent or more of any body part.

And the naked pinup on the arm?

“Go put a swimsuit on her or something; put a dress on her or something,” said Cmdr. Glen Kaemmerer, who oversees national enlisted programs for the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command outside Memphis, Tenn.

He said the command in 2004 began reviewing an increasing number of questionable tattoos that require waivers.

With 31 Navy Recruiting Districts nationwide, screening is done on the local level. Some tattoos do not require waivers, but the recruiting command has the last word on all body art.

Sailors who had tattoos before the regulations changed were grandfathered in.

Cmdr. Kaemmerer said it is not unusual for an enlistee to go back under the needle to alter a tattoo to make it more acceptable. Some enlistees have tattoos removed with a laser by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist.

Tattoos are a seafaring tradition that goes back centuries to when the first European sailors returned home with indelible souvenirs from the South Pacific.

Now enlistees have to explain their body art to recruiters who are concerned, in part, because tattoos are used as a form of code by gangs and hate groups.

Before a spider web tattoo on the elbow became a fashion statement, it meant that the person had served time in prison, killed someone or slain another prisoner.

Foreign-language tattoos, such as the Chinese and Japanese writing characters popular with professional basketball players, have to be translated.

Sometimes the enlistee is surprised by the translation.

“We had a young man come in with two Chinese characters; it was supposed to be ‘strong’ on the left breast and ‘man’ on the right,” said Chief Petty Officer Will Borrall, a spokesman for Navy Recruiting District Richmond.

Petty Officer Borrall found that the characters actually translated to “prostitute.”

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