The U.S. Air Force and its relatively new sister branch, the U.S. Space Force, are considering a pilot program to allow servicemembers to grow beards, according to an internal email leaked last week.
The possible program to allow beards was detailed in an emailed proposal shared among the Air Force’s Black/African American Employment Strategy Team (BEST). BEST is one of the Department of the Air Force’s (DAF) Barrier Analysis Working Groups (BAWG), which consider various challenges impacting diversity in the service branches.
Screenshots of the email were taken and shared on the popular Amn/NCO/SNCO Facebook page on Thursday. An Air Force spokesperson confirmed the screenshotted photos describe a program the DAF (which oversees the Air Force and Space Force) is considering.
The screenshotted message reads: “The following Servicemembers have been selected to participate in the US Space Forces Inclusive Male Grooming standards Pilot Program (IMG), as part of the Black/African American Employment Strategy Team (BEST) and the Barrier Analysis Working Group (BAWG) effort responsible to test and research the impacts of male facial hair across the DoD and report its findings to the SECDEF.”
The message then lists a U.S. Army major who completed an inter-service transfer (IST) to the Space Force and two E6 grade technical sergeants in the Space Force.
The remainder of the message reads:
“The above-mentioned Servicemembers are authorized to grow facial hair while in uniform, which will not exceed [a quarter inch]. The facial hair must be neat in appearance, shaped appropriately, and not faddish. DAF Instruction 36-2903 provides additional guidance on hair and mustache standards, which must be followed during the pilot. The program will run from 01 SEP 2022 to XX XXX 2023. Servicemembers should be supported by their local chains of command and no negative impact to their career will be tolerated for participating in this DaD directed study.
Servicemembers will be required to ensure their facial hair falls within the guidelines of the pilot program at all times. Failure to do so will result in removal from the study as an authorized participant. Servicemembers must also provide the required feedback, surveys, photos, and documentation to the BEST/BAWG teams in order to build an analytical assessment for the SECDEF!
Inquiries into servicemembers’ participation in the pilot program issues or concerns can be addressed to (Aide-De-Camp of BG Devin Pepper) via email: [email protected] mil and by phone (0) – Thank you for supporting this important effort!
Devin R. Pepper
Brigadier General, U.S. Space Force
Deputy Director Strategy, Plans, and Policy
(DJS) USSPACECOM BEST/BAWG Proponent
The pilot beard program described in this message has not yet been implemented.
Military.com reported the proposed pilot program comes as other military branches have begun adopting policies that ease the strict shaving requirements for troops — and particularly African American men — who often suffer painful ingrown hairs as a result of regular shaving.
Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Air Force, told Military.com that the screenshots were from a volunteer discussing ideas with the department’s BEST. Stefanek said the proposal has not yet been approved.
“The proposal is being discussed within the Black/African American Employment Strategy Team, one of the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Groups, but has not been approved,” Stefanek said.
The official Air Force dress grooming policy states “Beards are not authorized unless for medical reasons, when authorized by a medical official, or as authorized pursuant to a request for a religious accommodation.” The policy states that in those instances were beards are allowed, commands still retain the authority “to order immediate removal of facial hair to ensure, for example, a proper gas mask fit in the event of a
chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threat.”
While all military branches generally prohibit beards, service members in various branches have sought medical and religious accommodations to grow such facial hair.
In 2018, the Air Force granted a waiver allowing a Muslim man to keep his beard.
A group of observant Sikh plaintiffs has also sued the U.S. Marine Corps to have the service allow them to grow their beards in accordance with their religious practices.