Marine Sgt. Daniel Knapp was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and again in 2013. He decided to commemorate his first deployment by getting a tattoo on his forearm of a pair of crossed rifles and the numbers 0311 - the Marine Corps' designation for riflemen. Unfortunately, as a result of this, he was denied re-enlistment due to his tattoos, despite a waiver signed by leaders within his command.
"When I was in Afghanistan, my tattoos never stopped me from shooting anyone, and they never made me more of a target,” Knapp told Marine Corps Times. “They never stopped me from keeping Marines safe. On patrol nothing ever happened because of my tattoos."
Knapp’s tattoos and placement apparently constituted policy violations, so while the rest of his battalion is in Europe as part of a crisis-response force, he’s still stationed in North Carolina.
Knapp thinks that his tattoos are an issue, in part, due to generational gap between policymakers and soldiers. "The top people grew up in a different time when they were not acceptable," he said. "So that is shaping their decision making. Decisions should be made based on what is good for Marines, to fight wars and be ready.”
The Marine Corps actually tightened their tattoo policy recently, although the Army has relaxed theirs. Marines cannot have “offensive tattoos,” or ink on their head, neck, hands, fingers or wrists, nor can they have full, half, or quarter sleeves. Tattoos outside of physical training gear cannot be larger than a Marine’s hand.
Knapp didn’t even know his ink violated the rules until he talked about re-enlisting. At that point, his tattoos were four years old. "They didn't have an issue meritoriously promoting me when I had a tattoo," he said. "I had never heard anything about my tattoos. Nothing was said until I went to the career planner.”
Knapp said he won’t move branches to find leaders more accepting of his tattoos. "Honestly as much as I love being in, I couldn't go over to the Army because being a Marine is something that I love," he said. "I always wanted to be a Marine. When I became one, I wanted to be the best Marine. If I went over to the Army, I would spend the rest of my time regretting it."