While facial hair used to be allowed in the United States military as far back as the revolutionary war, times changed and regulations were put in place that required all soldiers to be clean cut. However, the US Army Research Labs recently reached out to press to confirm the existence of a testing initiative to see if beards can be safely brought back.
Poisonous gas was a pretty revolutionary invention that saw almost constant usage during the first World War. It was because of this that gas masks for troops became a priority. Because the mask required a tight seal around the face to work properly, regulations were put in place that prevented soldiers from having facial hair.
Although poisonous gas is now outlawed under the Geneva Convention, with the only exception being tear gas for riot control purposes, these facial hair regulations have continued to present day, with certain exceptions, officially called “Relaxed Grooming Standards”. For example, the Navy SEALs and other Special Forces allow beards in order to allow operatives to blend into local culture more easily, also referred to as Social Camouflage.
Nevertheless, 2014 saw the addition of some flexibility in terms of grooming standards in the military, as dreadlocks and cornrows were officially allowed. Also, on Jan. 03, 2017, Obama enacted a change in regulation that would allow for beards, turbans, and hijabs to be worn for one’s religion.
Because of the change in these regulations, specifically about being able to have a beard for religions that require them, the Army is looking into the possibility of changing regulation so that everyone may have a beard, provided it is trimmed to meet certain length requirements, according to Army Times. Although this caveat might displease those looking to grow a full-length facial hair, this is the first time beards would be allowed in uniform in just over a century.
Although just now going public with the concept, the Army has been doing research on the topic for a few years, according to a United States Army press release. Because part of Basic Military Training, often called Boot Camp, requires troops to go into a chamber filled with chlorobenzylidene malonitrile gas to train them for situations that might require a gas mask, the Army must take into account and research if beards can be worn safely with the masks.
Aside from the gas mask test, according to the press release, researchers at Natick Soldier Research Development & Engineering Center are testing whether or not standard issue helmets can be worn comfortably with a beard, according to Army Times. After they determine that they can be worn safely and comfortably, they will perform blunt and ballistics tests, which might run until June of this year or later.
Those in charge of changing the regulations will also consider whether or not the change violates any core values. They will look to see if changing the regulations will affect the professionalism, standards, discipline, readiness and safety of the soldiers.
“I fail to see in any way that a standard for facial hair could violate any of the core values of the Army,” states Cadet Kyle Curabba, a sophomore ROTC cadet at Saint Leo studying Business Management. “That being said, there still shouldn’t be free reign on it.”
It’s still unsure whether or not the Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard will change their regulations after seeing the results from the Army’s research and tests. While many may cheer if this passes, there will always be the side that will oppose it and try to push for the regulations to be kept.