After the Army's top enlisted soldier spilled the beans on a proposed new tattoo policy for the service, officers have clammed up.
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that Command Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler told soldiers at two bases in Afghanistan that the Army will soon outlaw tattoos below the elbow or below the knee. Old soldiers can get their tattoos grandfathered, he said.
The Army wouldn't expound on Chandler's revelation, except to say that nothing has changed, yet.
"The Army is conducting final review of the forthcoming uniform policy ... prior to its implementation," Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon, wrote in a statement.
Chandler's announcement is a continuation of a decade long battle pitting the Army against a generation of soldiers who like their ink.
Policy now forbids soldiers from having tattoos on their neck or face and bans tattoos that are deemed sexist, racist, extremist or indecent.
Similar bans exist in almost every armed service.
The change voiced by Chandler is something of a leap because it bans some tattoos that can be concealed while in uniform.
Retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliams said the policy proposal is aimed at keeping up appearances, something the Army has worried about for generations.
"What they're really trying to get at is the image the overall image that's presented when you're in uniform," said McWilliams, who was Fort Carson's top enlisted soldier for nearly a decade.
The Army let some things including tattoo rules slide at the heart of 12 years at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In need of recruits, the service was known to waive the standards to get more troops on the battlefield.
Now, the Army is downsizing by 70,000 soldiers and the war in Afghanistan is coming to an end. Tattoos have regained their prominence.
"The Army is a professional organization. It is a uniformed service where the public judges a soldier's discipline in part by the manner in which he or she wears the uniform, as well as by the individual's personal appearance," Army spokesman Lt. Col. Justin Platt explained in an email from the Pentagon. "A neat and well-groomed appearance is fundamental to the Army profession and contributes to building the pride and esprit essential for an effective military force."
Meanwhile, body art has never been more popular.
"It's just another way for people to express themselves," explained tattoo artist Shelly Dungan at Art in Motion in Colorado Springs.
Dungan said large tattoos that reach lower arms or lower legs remain in vogue. And tattoos are very popular in the military set, she said.
But most military tattoo seekers understand that some ink can run afoul of regulations.
"Some people are more cognizant than others," Dungan said.
Tattooed troops who make mistakes often wind up at the Colorado Laser Clinic in Colorado Springs.
The clinic's Melissa Cantu said the change in Army regulation will likely result in a wave of new customers, especially would be recruits who can't join the military unless they erase a tattoo or two.
"We'll get an influx of calls and, unfortunately, some of those people think that tattoos can be removed as fast as they can be put on," Cantu said.
The clinic uses a laser to break up the ink under the skin, fading the tattoo away. It can take a year or more, Cantu said.
"Nobody knows how far the ink goes when you get it done," she explained.