The debate surrounding beards in the military continues, with Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramon “CZ’ Colon-Lopez making his opinion clear: in the services, the focus should be on “kicking the enemy’s ass.”
“The question is, do we really need to be discussing fashion when we’re preparing, after 20 years of war, to best an opponent that can potentially have the best of us?” Colon-Lopez asked. “Is the beard relevant? Is there a need for a beard other than personal comfort to not shave?”
Service members are expected to place their status as ‘soldiers’ in equal importance to all other aspects of their lives, which often leads to conflict between regulation and personal expression. A unified presentation between troops in uniform, as well as personal grooming, is expected.
But the conflict stems from more than expression. Some religions, such as Sikhism, Islam, and some forms of Judaism forbid their followers from shaving facial hair.
Also, for some people, shaving can lead to a condition known as Pseudofolliculitis barbae. More common in men with curly hair or African American heritage, the condition causes painful ingrown hairs.
While shaving waivers can be obtained, a survey published by Military Medicine showed an association between waivers and delayed promotions.
Ultimately, the debate on whether soldiers and sailors can sport beards may be decided on utilitarian factors. If beards don’t impact the efficiency of gas masks, or protective gear, or otherwise inhibit the ability of a service member to fulfill their duties, the sight of a full beard in uniform could become more common.
While the Air Force and Space Force reportedly consider a pilot program to test how beards work in daily military life, military suppliers are also attempting to bridge the gap with redesigned gear suitable for beards.
Avon Protection Systems, a manufacturer of protective gear for the military, introduced the Avon NH-15 Combo Escape Hood in 2017. Capable of being worn with a full beard, the hood supplies a full 15-minute protection window for the wearer to escape chemical fallout, Army Times reported.