As reported by CBC, the Canadian Armed Forces will now authorize their troops to grow a beard — within certain limits, of course. Canadian service members' beards must not exceed two centimeters (roughly 3/4th of an inch) in length, must be kept off the neck and cheekbones, and may not be in any non-traditional, trendy style.
This puts our brothers to the north in league with the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and most of our other NATO allies in realizing that beards aren't as detrimental to troops as once believed. This leaves the United States and Turkey as the last two beardless, major US powers — but the Turkish Armed Forces haven't yet taken the debate off the agenda.
With the Global War on Terrorism winding down and garrison life becoming an ever-growing aspect of a troop's career, it's about time the Pentagon at least entertains the idea of allowing conventional troops some leeway on facial hair grooming standards.
The current policy that requires U.S. troops to be clean-shaven comes from the need to properly seal a gas mask in the event of a chemical attack. In World War I and II, such a policy made absolute sense. Chemical weapons were used extensively against Allied troops and anyone fighting in areas where the enemy was known to use them kept their mask close by.
Today, the use of chemical weapons against US troops is not a complete impossibility. After all, Saddam Hussein used nerve gas against Iranian troops and the Kurds in 1987, sarin gas was used in 2013 during the Syrian Civil War, and many terrorist organization — including ISIS, Aum Shinrikyo, and Al-Qaeda — have been known to use chemical weapons in their attacks.
While a chemical weapons attack against U.S. service members could happen, today aren't taking gas masks with them on patrol. Ounces make pounds and any additional weight slows troops down — especially when the odds of needing a mask are so slight. So, most troops opt to leave their mask back at the tent, unless mission dictated.
But even if the worst should happen, the Canadian military developed a gas mask that fits over the entire face and chin and is designed specifically with beards in mind. In the absence of such a mask, troops can just slather a bunch of Vaseline on their beard before putting the mask on — believe it or not, that does the trick, too.
Even a tiny bit of stubble will stop a gas mask from completely sealing and let all that nastiness inside.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)
The next argument against beards is that they're not in line with a "professional appearance." The problem here is that there's no real, defined standard as to what's considered "professional." That being said, we all know there's a fine line between having a well-kept beard and looking like a bum.
On the same side of the coin, certain Special Operations Command units have turned a blind eye toward facial hair standards. You'd have to be very firm in your convictions if you're going to call out a Green Beret, a quiet professional, for being unprofessional.
The two loudest voices on the matter are that of Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who opposes beards as he believes it would loosen discipline standards in the ranks, and the Command Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, who is in favor of beards as long as they are kept to a strict standard. And Dailey supports a caveat that would revoke beard privileges in environments with a high risk of chemical attacks.
Shaving while deployed also runs into the issue of wasting a valuable resource — water — on an arbitrary task.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Rosalie Chang)
There are pros and cons on either sides of the facial hair debate but, as it stands now, the need for a clean-shaven face simply isn't as dire as it once was. And, as shown in an informal study done by Military Times, a vast majority of troops and veterans are in favor of loosening the grip on facial hair standards now that troops are spending more and more time in-garrison.
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