When Marine Corps family members in Maryland reached out to their congressman with concerns about crowded base barber shops, Rep. Jamie Raskin said that — of all the challenges the country faces during the coronavirus pandemic — this was an easy one to solve.
“The people who joined the Marines are protecting us and we have an obligation to protect them,” Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, told Military.com. “[Grooming standards] can be relaxed in a way that does not endanger our national security.”
Raskin, who wrote a letter to Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger on Tuesday, is the latest to question the service’s adherence to strict grooming standards during the global pandemic. A video shared on social media that showed Marines without masks lined up to get their hair cut prompted Defense Secretary Mark Esper to ask, “What don’t you guys understand?”
In his letter, Raskin urged Berger to relax Marine Corps grooming standards temporarily “to protect both Marines and the barbers and hairdressers who serve them.”
Berger has received the letter but wishes to keep private his communication with lawmakers, Maj. Eric Flanagan, the commandant’s spokesman, said.
The commandant has left decisions about relaxing standards to stem the spread of coronavirus up to commanders, but Raskin said the massive health crisis the pandemic presents calls for top-down guidance.
“This calls for precisely the kind of institutional leadership and cohesion that the Marines are famous for,” he said. “The commandant can act here to prevent high-risk situations from materializing.”I’m asking the @USMC Commandant to temporarily relax grooming standards in the Marine Corps during the COVID19 pandemic to avoid putting Marines base barbers at unnecessary risk of infection. Our fighting forces protect us we must protect them (with no risk to nat. security).pic.twitter.com/meuZG9ToOv
Having Marines wait in lines for haircuts as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the military ranks is unnecessary, Raskin said. The ongoing public health struggle against coronavirus, he said, requires leaders to help reduce any unneeded close physical contact.
Each of the military services has issued its own guidance on how to enforce grooming standards during the pandemic. The Navy, the service hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, was the first to give commanders the authority to relax male and female hair-length rules on March 18.
The Air Force also issued guidance last month to commanders about relaxing grooming standards. Soldiers have been told to follow the service’s hair regulations, but not to be overboard with extra cuts to keep it super short during the outbreak.
In his letter, Raskin stressed that it only takes one infected Marine or barber to spread COVID-19. That could lead to a chain reaction of COVID-19 cases in the ranks, he warned.
The congressman acknowledged that military leaders have a lot to consider when it comes to new policies during the unprecedented situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But if family members are worried about their Marines’ safety, public leaders have an obligation to consider their concerns, he said.
“I hope the commandant can strike the right balance,” Raskin said.