The U.S. Air Force, like the other services, have discovered that it's not worth the grief to try and ban recruits with tattoos. The air force recently implanted a policy barring recruits who had any tats on their right (saluting) arms. But someone at the top did not realize that there were hundreds of recruits in the Delayed Entry Program (you do not report for basic training for some months after you sign up) who probably had tattoos, and, sure enough, 26 of them turned out to have tattoos on their right arms. This turned out to be a publicity nightmare, because these recruits had already signed their contracts and been accepted. Now the air force was telling them that a deal was not a deal. The media went to work on the air force. So, two weeks after implanting the right arm tattoo policy, the air force cancelled it. The air force is now in the process of reviewing its tattoo policies, if only to make sure no innocent bystanders get zapped the next time people wearing certain tattoos are banned from serving.
All this is nothing new. Back in 2006, the U.S. Army was forced to back off on it "zero tolerance" rules on tattoos. "Zero tolerance" meant that if you had any tattoo showing ( when you are dressed, wearing a long sleeve shirt and long pants), the army would not take you. But after turning away so many otherwise qualified recruits, the army changed the rule to allow innocuous tattoos to be showing. Moreover, the army didn't set any precise standards about what was acceptable, and what was not. Enforcement was a judgment thing, with recruiters, and staff at basic training centers, often disagreeing over what was acceptable. The brass have been increasingly giving the recruiters the final say. After all, if the guys (and some gals) with visible tattoos, as a group, make good soldiers, the tattoo policies themselves may be in danger.