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AF revises body modification, mutilation guidance

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force has revised personal appearance guidelines in response to a trend involving extreme body modification and mutilation that is becoming common among a small, yet growing segment of the population, according to personnel officials.

This change is in Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel. It prohibits airmen from intentionally altering or modifying their bodies in order to achieve a visible effect that disfigures, deforms or otherwise detracts from a professional military image, said Lt. Col. Frank Pombar, chief of the Air Force quality of life programs and uniform branch at the Pentagon.

"The Air Force is a profession of arms and there are certain appearance standards that we must adhere to," Pombar said. "Whether in or out of uniform, we represent the Air Force and must conduct ourselves professionally."

Although the colonel believes very few airmen will actually be impacted by this policy clarification, it will benefit recruiters, first sergeants, commanders and airmen.

"For some time now, recruiters have been seeing a growing number of people with extreme body alterations or piercings," he said. "Without specific guidance, recruiters often had to rely on personal opinion or taste to make a decision as to what was or was not appropriate."

However, this change to the AFI is not a checklist nor is it intended to tie the hands of Air Force officials, Pombar said.

The goal is to establish broad guidance to assist commanders, first sergeants, recruiters and airmen in determining what is or is not acceptable and professional, he explained.

Administrative or disciplinary action will be left up to the discretion of each commander if they feel airmen have done something to themselves that might detract from their professional military image.

"This policy allows for some flexibility, but if anyone is considering some type of body modification or physical alteration procedure, they should talk to their first sergeant or commander before making a decision," Pombar said.

The bottom line is that there are certain appearance standards that the service and the nation expects airmen to adhere to and therefore Air Force people must always strive to conduct themelves in a professional manner, he said.

The Air Force is not the only armed service that has considered changing its policy or guidance on dress and personal appearance. Each of the four services are seeing the same things and are beginning to adopt policies similar to the Air Force, he said.

"Hopefully we have created a useful guideline that will let everyone know what the Air Force standard is and what is expected of all men and women wearing the Air Force uniform," Pombar said.

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