KENNEBUNK, Maine — A 20-year-old Kennebunk woman whose dream of joining the U.S. Marine Corps was dashed because of a tattoo on her collarbone has found an ally in U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who has written to the commandant of the Marine Corps to protest policies she said are unintentionally discriminatory against women.
When Kate Pimental turned 18, she got a tattoo that reads, “Let your smile change the world but never let the world change you,” according to a release from Pingree’s office.
Marine Corps policy discourages accepting recruits with tattoos, but waivers are regularly given when the tattoo can be covered by the official uniform, Pingree, a Democrat from Maine, said.
A tattoo in the same location on a male recruit would be covered by a crew neck T-shirt in the standard Marine Corps uniform, but the Marine Corps uniform for women is cut lower, and Pimental’s tattoo would be exposed, Pingree said.
“That’s not right, and it keeps smart, capable women like Kate from being able to serve her country,” Pingree said.
On Monday, Pimental said goodbye to friends who were leaving for bootcamp. She continues to train at the Marine Recruiting Center in South Portland with other members of a Poolee program, which helps prepare recruits for boot camp.
“It is an amazing program,” she said. “I have definitely gotten a lot stronger since I’ve started training with them. It is very intense and hard sometimes, but after we finish, at the end of the day, I’m proud I did it. They show you how much you can push yourself to do more than what you thought you can do. And we all have gotten very close here, too. They’re all like my second family, my brothers and sisters.”
On Friday, Pingree wrote to Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, to protest “several policies and regulations that, however unintentional, directly affect female Marines’ opportunities to serve. As women take more active roles in defending this country, it’s important that we address some of the discrepancies that provide men with options unavailable to their female counterparts.”
Earlier this month, Neller said he would release a revised version of the Marine Corps tattoo policy within 30 days, the Marine Corps Times reported.
The four branches of the military each follows its own tattoo policy, although none permits racist or sexist tattoos. As of April 2015, the U.S. Army no longer limits the size or number of tattoos soldiers can have on their arms or legs, although tattoos on one’s face, neck or hand — save one ring tattoo per hand — are not permitted. The Navy prohibits tattoos anywhere that are visible when wearing a crew neck T-shirt, except in special circumstances. The Air Force prohibits “excessive” tattoos.
Pingree said Pimental meets every prerequisite required by the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, and she has already been training with other recruits in the area.
Pimental said in the release that she remains determined to join the Marine Corps.
“I’m going to do this no matter how long it takes,” Pimental said. “Serving in the Marines is tough, but I know in my heart I can do it. It’s going to make me a better person. I’m very grateful that Congresswoman Pingree is going to bat for me.”