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Tattoo shop owners react to Army grooming regulation changes

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New regulations from the Army could limit the placement of future tattoos by Fort Drum soldiers, among other grooming standards.

The Army Times reported on Friday that Army secretary and north country native John M. McHugh approved changes to the service’s grooming standards. The paper said specific details on the new grooming rules could be weeks away.

Among the changes to the grooming rules discussed last fall was a ban on tattoos above the neck line and below the elbow or knee. It was not clear how the tattoo rules would grandfather soldiers already with tattoos in those places, or potential punishments for not following the rules.

Told of the new policies, multiple tattoo shop owners said that it may not have much of an impact on their businesses and their soldier clients.

Joseph R. Gambino, co-owner of Empyre Tattoo, Carthage, said the changes may not affect them immediately, as the wording hasn’t been fully ironed out. He said he and the artists at his shop have been closely following the development of the rules, with a goal of staying in the good graces of the post. About half of the shop’s customers are military-affiliated, he said.

“We don’t want to be blacklisted,” Mr. Gambino said.

When the changes are finalized, the shop owner said the conversations he would have with military customers would likely be similar to those he has with 18-year-old customers — making sure they’re not negatively affecting their future employment options.

“I’m not going to talk somebody out of a memorial tattoo, I just would talk to them about placement,” Mr. Gambino said.

Prior to any new changes, the Army’s rules already forbid extremist, indecent, sexist and racist tattoos, and the placement of any tattoo on the face, head or neck above the class A uniform collar.

Kenneth C. Bedford, owner of Spirit Art II, 839 State St., Watertown, predicted his military customers would still be interested in tattoos, even if they had to change their location.

“Just because they have to change where they get them doesn’t mean they won’t get them,” he said. “They still will figure out what they want and where they want it.”

Many of his customers, Mr. Bedford said, are planning sleeves, “so when they get out they can get what they wanted.”

James A. Kroeger, owner of Pride and Glory Tattoos, 1317 State St., said he was not worried about the rule change.

“If guys want to get tattoos, they’re going to get it,” he said. “They’ll just put it in a different spot on their body.”

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