Wish to Develop a Beard? Not in My Air Drive, Says Colón-Lopez. Others Aren’t So Positive.

Probably the most senior enlisted service member stamped down on the push to permit Airmen and Guardians to put on beards in uniform with no waiver, saying beards don’t contribute to army preparedness and the push may have a destructive impact on self-discipline.

“If you wish to look cute along with your skinny denims and your beard, by all means, do it someplace else,” Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers Ramón Colón-López mentioned throughout a ”Espresso Speak” Fb chat streamed dwell from the AFA Warfare Symposium on March 8. “However stop losing our time on one thing that doesn’t have something to do with kicking the enemy’s ass.”

Colón-López was joined by Chief Grasp Sergeant of the Air Drive JoAnne S. Bass and Chief Grasp Sergeant of the Area Drive Roger A. Towberman, who expressed comparable views.

“From a vogue perspective, it’s a really foolish factor to fret about,” mentioned Towberman. “We’re not right here to be modern.”

A furry historical past

Beards are once more a delicate matter within the Air Drive. A long time after the Air Drive imposed a beard ban, the service just lately started permitting non secular exemptions for some Airmen and medical waivers for others. 

Air Drive medical analysis revealed in 2021 advised the beard ban was discriminatory towards Black Airmen, who usually tend to endure from pseudofolliculitis barbae, a pores and skin situation, also called razor bumps, attributable to ingrown hairs that makes shaving painful and even scarring if pores and skin is just not given an opportunity to heal.

Researchers discovered that Airmen with shaving waivers took longer to earn promotions and sometimes couldn’t land high-profile positions as recruiters, army coaching instructors, Honor Guard members, or positions on the Thunderbirds flight demonstration group.

“[T]he promotion system is just not essentially inherently racially biased, however as an alternative biased towards the presence of facial hair which can possible all the time have an effect on the promotions of Blacks/African-Individuals disproportionately due to the comparatively greater want for shaving waivers on this inhabitants,” the examine mentioned.

Bass mentioned she desires to get rid of discriminatory insurance policies towards Airmen with shaving waivers. Her group repealed insurance policies that had barred bearded Airmen and Guardians from serving in some they usually made it simpler to qualify for beard waivers. Bass mentioned she is conscious of the stigma towards facial hair, and in a December Fb put up wrote about her want to erase that stigma.

U.S. Air Drive Senior Airman Caleb Mills, a increase operator assigned to the 91st Air Refueling Squadron operates increase controls throughout an air refueling flight to commemorate Black Historical past Month at MacDill Air Drive Base, Florida, Feb. 1, 2023. U.S. Air Drive picture by Tech. Sgt. Alexander Prepare dinner.

But Airmen and Guardians proceed to press for a rule change on social media boards just like the Air Drive subreddit and Fb’s Air Drive amn/nco/snco web page, the place commenters regularly query the necessity the beard ban within the first place. Navy leaders usually declare that facial hair disrupts the seal of a fuel masks or oxygen masks, although one Air Drive physician has discovered no direct scientific proof to assist the declare.

“It’s an unsubstantiated declare,” Lt. Col. Simon Ritchie, the dermatologist who led the 2021 examine on beards within the Air Drive, informed Job & Objective in Could. Beard opponents “could have anecdotal proof of 1 to 5 individuals who they see fail the match check,” he mentioned. However “that may’t be extrapolated to lots of of 1000’s of airmen.”

Fellow NATO nations Canada, Germany, and Norway permit beards and present no direct proof that facial hair disrupts fuel masks seals, mentioned Ritchie, who was stationed in Germany on the time. The closest factor to direct scientific proof he may discover, he mentioned, was a 2018 examine exhibiting that 98 p.c of examine members who had an eighth-inch of beard achieved acceptable matches on civilian half-face negative-pressure respirators, which Ritchie mentioned are similar to the M-50 fuel masks used within the army right now.

Ritchie informed Job & Objective on the time that the Air Drive would want solely a small examine—maybe 100 to 150 members—to settle the difficulty a method or one other. However Towberman and Colón-López appeared bored with pursuing broad acceptance of beards.

“I actually really feel fairly comfy” with the coverage because it stands, Towberman mentioned. “It appears like we’re carrying out what we wanted to. I shouldn’t be discriminated towards due to a glasses prescription, [and beards are similar]. So the medical requirement or the non secular lodging wanted to be addressed and we’ve addressed it.”

‘Is there a necessity?’

Colón-López was extra blunt. A former pararescueman, he famous there was a “fight want” to develop beards with the intention to mix in with the native inhabitants in Afghanistan, however that want regularly fell away because the U.S. army established a longer-term presence there.

“You had GI-issue physique armor, helmet, large American flag and a beard. Actually? You mix in? So it grew to become a silly argument,” Colón-López mentioned.

However within the 2016 e book Hammerhead Six, Inexperienced Beret Capt. Ronald Fry wrote that beards have been greater than mixing in—they have been additionally an necessary technique of gaining the respect of native elders.

“If I had shaved my beard, after I returned to responsibility within the Pech no one would have talked to me,” Fry wrote. “The warrior king would have been decreased to juvenile standing, and the respect that we have been working so laborious to realize would evaporate.”

Then-Senior Grasp Sgt. Ramón Colón-López wore a beard whereas deployed to Afghanistan in 2004. His beard then helped him mix into the inhabitants. Photograph by way of the Nationwide Museum of the U.S. Air Drive.

Nonetheless, because the operator look—beard, baseball cap, 9 Line t-shirts—caught on, beards grew to become “a badge of pleasure due to our ass-kicking monitor file downrange,” mentioned Colón-López. His view: The requires beards within the Air Drive derive both from the will to suit that fashion and look or from laziness and the will to not shave.

“Now the query is: Do we actually must be discussing vogue, after we’re making ready after 20 years of battle, to finest an opponent that may doubtlessly have the very best of us?” he mentioned. “Is there a necessity for a beard, apart from private consolation to not shave?”

Colón-López mentioned he opposed non secular exemptions to the beard rule when he labored for the Assistant Secretary of the Air Drive for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

“We name this a uniform,” he mentioned on the Fb chat, pointing to his chest. “And what does uni imply? One. And that’s a part of the expectation of individuals, to place their character apart for the betterment of the group … The extra we begin requesting ‘nicely, I need,’ we begin shedding sight of that self-discipline and that commonality that we’ve got as warfighters.”

Ritchie, the dermatologist, disagreed in an interview with Air & Area Forces Journal.

“This has by no means been about wanting cute or about vogue, this has all the time been about eradicating each attainable vestige of racial discrimination within the Air Drive and in addition about permitting these with non secular beliefs to precise these whereas in uniform,” Ritchie mentioned.

“We’re forcing out proficient Airmen (confirmed with knowledge), we’re not selling our shaving waiver holders (confirmed with knowledge), and since our waiver holders are predominantly Black this instantly interprets into racial discrimination,” he mentioned.

Final yr, former Chief Grasp Sergeant of the Air Drive Kaleth Wright, mentioned in a panel dialogue that he spent almost his whole 32-year army profession against facial hair. “I had alternatives to rent every kind of oldsters and I used to be adamant about not hiring any person with a shaving waiver, simply because I fell into that class of ‘that is Air Drive coverage, it’s not skilled,’” he mentioned. “I used to be willfully ignorant in regards to the influence it was having on younger Black males.”

However as CMSAF, Wright ultimately modified his tune. A minimum of one common officer shares Wright’s place. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Bibb, then-commander of the 18th Air Drive, mentioned on the identical panel that for a few years he didn’t need Airmen with shaving waivers to symbolize his wing or be in his Honor Guard.

“Man that hurts now that I take into consideration the phrases that I mentioned and the steering that I gave,” mentioned Bibb, now the deputy inspector common of the Air Drive. 

“I’ll be the primary Airman to develop a beard” if the Air Drive drops the band, he mentioned. “I feel we’ve got to remove the stigmatism that goes with this. Even if you happen to change the foundations, if we don’t see leaders which have beards,” the stigma will survive.