By Marguerite Cleveland
Facial hair except for mustaches is not allowed in all branches of the service but there are a few exceptions. The first is for medical reasons that affect shaving. The second reason is for religious reasons. Some special operators are allowed beards to blend in with local populations. Can you grow a beard in the military, the answer is no unless you have a sincerely held religious belief or you have a medical reason? It is important to note that the reason beards and facial hair are prohibited is due to the fact that respirators and chemical masks do not get a proper seal with facial hair. This can put the service member at risk. That is why it is required to be clean shaven every day.
Medical reasons for not shaving usually have to do with razor bumps where hair becomes ingrown due to shaving and primarily occurs in African Americans. In this case the beard is typically limited to 1/4 inch. Some branches of the service will allow a permanent profile for this condition but recently the Navy did away with permanent shaving waivers for sailors diagnosed with razor bumps. The reason being that facial hair hinders the effectiveness of breathing devices.
The Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services prescribes policy, procedures, and responsibilities for the accommodation of religious practices in the military services. DoDI 1300.17, paragraph 4.b, states “[r]equests for religious accommodation will be resolved in a timely manner and will be approved when accommodation would not adversely impact mission accomplishment, including military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or any other military requirement.” This regulation allows service members to apply for a waiver of grooming standards for religious accommodation.
These requests are evaluated on a case by case basis and there is quite a bit that goes into a decision. The first is evaluating if approved would the accommodation would impair the safe and effective operation of weapons, military equipment, or machinery; pose a health or safety hazard; interfere with the wear or proper function of special or protective clothing or equipment; or otherwise impair discipline, morale, unit cohesion, or accomplishment of the unit mission.
The next step is evaluating if a service member has a deep and sincere belief in a religious faith. The Department of Defense recognizes 221 religions including; heathenry, humanism, paganism, and Wicca. Requests for waivers regarding grooming go all the way up to the Secretary level for approval. Two recent cases one which was approved and one that was disapproved show how each case is unique.
In a case which was approved a soldier who practiced the Norse Pagan faith, a heathen religion received an approval for a beard waiver in accordance with his faith. In 2017, the Army recognized waivers for Sikh soldiers allowing them to honor their religious traditions. The Air Force also approved a waiver for a pagan Airman to allow him to grow a beard.
But not all requests are the same. SPC John Hoskins, a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster which are known as Pastafarians, was recently denied a waiver even though he professed a deep and sincere belief in the Pastafarian faith. The reason for the refusal was that he had not demonstrated a sincerely held religious belief.
So although the military has relaxed the grooming standards for medical or religious reasons, the average service member will not be authorized to have a beard or facial hair other than a mustache.
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.PeggyWhereShouldIGo.com