New tattoo rules could keep some talented cyberwarriors from promotions. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The Army’s tough new tattoo regulations appear to be hindering the service’s ability to advance soldiers in one of its most sought-after careers: cyber.
“The tattoo policy ... is preventing some of our soldiers from being warrant officers,” said Col. Jennifer Buckner, commander of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade. “That’s a current bit of strife.”
Buckner’s comments were made Thursday at a defense industry conference in Arlington, Virginia.
It was unclear how many cyber soldiers may run afoul of the Army’s latest revision to AR 670-1, the Army’s regulation on appearance standards that took effect March 31. The specific rule generating said “strife” prohibits enlisted soldiers with illegal tattoos from getting commissioned as officers or appointed as warrant officers.
If you have tattoos on your head, face, neck, wrists, hands or fingers, you cannot request commissioning or appointment, according to the regulation.
Also barred from commissioning are soldiers who exceed the limit of four visible tattoos below the elbow or the knee; those with more than one visible band tattoo on their bodies; and those who have a sleeve tattoo below the elbow or the knee.
The one glimmer of good news: Army officials have said soldiers with illegal ink may apply for waivers or exceptions to policy.
The update to AR 670-1 comes as the Army pushes for a more professional force and transitions from more than 12 years of war.
The Army is also shrinking, so it can afford to be more selective — but perhaps not in the cyber community. The Defense Department is planning to grow its cyber force to 6,000 people by 2016, professionals who, with the close support of National Security Agency, will be integrated with combatant commands around the world, and defend the United States against major cyber attacks.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has pressured Army officials to quickly field its share. Among other troops feeding the ranks are cyberspace defense technicians, warrant officers who patrol DoD networks in search of malicious intrusions.
The appearance regs play into a larger debate among Army officials over how flexible the service should be when it comes to enlisting cyber warriors. As the Army draws from an external and unorthodox candidate pool known for its brains over its brawn, should it allow them to have longer hair or run slower than the Average Joe?
“I think we should be flexible enough to allow some exceptions,” said Combined Arms Center commander Lt. Gen. Robert Brown. He reasoned making them a civilian would limit the Army because the incentive for a candidate might be, “the pride of being a soldier.”
The chief of the Army’s newly established cyber school Maj. Gen. LaWarren Patterson said he was “torn.” On the one hand, he did not want to create a separate class of soldiers, but on the other, the Army must compete with the high-paying private sector, said Patterson, chief of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
“If people want to join the Army and be part of something bigger we should let them in without a lot of bureaucratic stuff,” Patterson said. “There is a talent to this that not everyone possesses.”
Yet given the astronomical cost of military and veteran medical care, relaxing physical fitness standards could become for the Army, “another rock in our rucksack.” “I think the aperture could be opened up, but we have more thinking to do on that,” he said.
Buckner said she likes “the flexibility of doing the right thing for the person and the unit, and having options for the commander.”
Henry Muller, a civilian official at the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, said when it comes to civilians in his agency, “I don’t worry about it.” Comfort trumps dress codes, except when the civilian is in a management position, has formal meetings and must represent the agency “in an appropriate light.”
“Comfort is important, and that people feel that way,” said Muller, CERDEC’s director of intelligence and information warfare directorate.
Guy Filippelli, president of RedOwl Analytics and a former soldier, said tech wizardry and physical fitness are not mutually exclusive. He suggested using physical fitness as part of the Army’s brand as it seeks hires, and noted the Army must worry about what the rest of the force will think about cyber warriors.
“If it comes down to something like tattoos,” he quipped, “treat it like the NBA and have everybody wear these big arm socks.”