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Soldier Sues Army For $100 Million Over Tattoo Rules

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview broadcast Friday that the focus of an investigation into alleged delayed treatments and deaths in the Veterans Administration's health care system should be to "fix the problem" rather than fire VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview broadcast Friday that the focus of an investigation into alleged delayed treatments and deaths in the Veterans Administration’s health care system should be to “fix the problem” rather than fire VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — It’s been a busy week for the Department of Defense with calls for a review of new military regulations concerning appearance that one soldier is even suing over.

The regulations, which went into effect in March, cover a variety of appearance-related issues including hair styles, fingernails, glasses and jewelry.

Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called for a review of these regulations following an outcry over hairstyle regulations affecting African-American soldiers.  In that story, some soldiers and members of the Congressional Black Caucus in D.C. felt as though the recent regulations were racist and targeted African-Americans serving in the military.

“The use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are offensive and biased. The assumption that individuals wearing these hairstyles cannot maintain them in a way that meets the professionalism of Army standards indicates a lack of cultural sensitivity conducive to creating a tolerant environment for minorities,” all 16 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus stated in a letter to Secretary Hagel Stars and Stripes reports.

Jasmine Jacobs, who left the Georgia National Guard earlier this month, started a White House petition against the new policy that garnered around 17,500 signatures before it ended.

These same rules ban tattoos below the knee or elbow; a long-standing part of military culture. Soldiers who already have the ink are grandfathered in. Under the new regulations, any soldier with tattoos is barred from seeking a promotion to warrant officer or commissioning as an officer.

Staff Sgt. Adam C. Thorogood, a Kentucky National Guard soldier with aspirations of joining a U.S. Army special operations unit wants a federal judge to overturn the military’s new regulations concerning soldiers with tattoos after feeling as though the Army is using his body art against him.

Thorogood, 28, sued Thursday in U.S. District Court in Paducah, Kentucky, seeking to have the new rules declared unconstitutional. He is seeking $100 million in damages.

“You’ve got a soldier who is about as gung ho as you get … then you’ve got this regulation you read about on Facebook and you don’t have a career,” said Robin May, a Kentucky-based attorney who represents Thorogood. “That would be a blow.”

May said the new regulations violate a constitutional ban on laws that retroactively change the legal consequences or status of actions that were committed before the enactment of the law. The ban also infringes upon Thorogood’s free speech rights, May said.

“The Army is a profession, and one of the ways our leaders and the American public measure our professionalism is by our appearance,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III Chandler said in an online video posted in March. “Every soldier has the responsibility to understand and follow these standards. Leaders at all levels also have a responsibility to interpret and enforce these standards, which begins by setting the example.”

Tattoos have long been a part of military culture, but as they have become more popular, and more prominently displayed on the body, the various branches have been regulating them in to try to maintain a professional look. The Air Force bans tattoos covering more than a quarter of an exposed body part, under regulations revised in 2011. In 2006, the Navy announced that forearm tattoos could be no wider than a hand’s breadth.

The Marine Corps has been cracking down on tattoos for years. In 2007, the Corps banned sleeve tattoos and those covering the leg below the knee.

Thorogood spent 10 years on active duty in the Army as a decorated soldier and sniper before switching to the reserves, a move that allowed him to pursue a degree in aerospace at Middle Tennessee State University and pursue certifications in flying planes. Attorney Ken Humphries said Thorogood’s goal was to submit an application for an appointment as a warrant officer, which are usually technical leaders and specialists, and become a helicopter pilot.

Thorogood has 11 tattoos, including three on his left arm featuring a three-member sniper team, a second of skulls and the sniper logo of a serpent and spear and an ambigram of the words “Fear Is the Mind Killer.” Once the tattoo regulations took effect, body art that Thorogood had before the regulations could get him charged with a military offense if he even applied for the position.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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