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Your Turn -- Anne Kelly: My husband's Army tattoos make him unfit for police service? Really?

May 11. 2015 11:52PM

I CANNOT TELL you how many times people spot the tattoo on my husband’s right forearm that says “US Army” and stop to thank him for his service to our country. I am happy to say that this happens often, and I’m always thankful to those people for recognizing the sacrifice my husband made for our country. I’m proud to live in a place where so many people recognize what he has done for them.

My husband is a veteran of the U.S. Army who spent seven years on active duty in the infantry. For more than 40 months of that time, he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Afghanistan once for approximately 13 months, came home for less than a year, then turned around and deployed to Iraq. He was supposed to spend 12 months there but this deployment was extended to 15 months. He left the service after his third deployment.

Upon arriving home, he was ready to leave the military for a much-needed break. That was not to be. He was caught by “Stop Loss,” a policy that gave my husband orders to head directly back to Iraq for another year instead of leaving the Army like he was originally supposed to. In fact, the first three years we were married we spent nine months together. But my husband loves our country and went willingly because he wanted to do whatever he could to protect our freedom.

Yes, this time was challenging for him and our family, but nothing quite prepared us for the battle we would face upon his return home. He could not find work for months. No one would hire him, and so he felt alienated from civilian life. He finally decided to go back to school, and after two years of hard work he got his associate’s degree.

Now that he’s finished school, he has set his sights on what he wants to do from here on out. He wants to continue to protect and serve. This time he wants to become a police officer. But there is a problem. He has tattoos, and this prevents him from even being able to apply to many police departments across the state.

I find this both confusing and vexing. My husband spent many years as an active duty soldier in combat zones. Who would be a better candidate for the police academy? His tattoos say things like “US Army” and “Freedom.” Tattoos in the military are not only common, but almost a rite of passage.

Many military-style tattoos include dog tags, names of units or the branch’s emblem. Our soldiers are proud of their service and want to show what they have done and where they have been. And why shouldn’t they be? Without them, none of us would be able to lead the lives that we do.

I find these tattoo policies discriminatory. They are not looking for the best candidates for the job at these police departments. They are looking for candidates who do not have tattoos.

What exacerbates the issue is the number of veterans who are automatically eliminated from being considered for employment. And what group of candidates is more qualified for jobs in law enforcement? If this is happening in this line of work, where else is it happening?

I think it is time that people do more than just shake a veteran’s hand and say, “thank you.” Thank them where it really counts and give them a chance to start a life in our civilian world. After all, it wouldn’t exist without our veterans.

Anne Kelly lives in Manchester.

Public Safety Social issues New Hampshire Guest Commentary Veterans

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