The U.S. Army is conducting tests to see if regulations can be safely changed to grant soldiers a specific wish: beards.
Modern troops are not fond of the clean-shaven look traditionally associated with Army life, but as of now the only personnel that have them were granted religious exceptions or part of elite forces who must blend in with local populations. Multiple officials have confirmed that ongoing tests surrounding various gas masks and helmets may change the equation.
Army Sgt. Maj. Dan Dailey and Army G-1 uniform policy Sgt. Maj. Anthony Moore recently spoke with Army Times about troops’ regular requests to allow beards.
“There’s a large desire for soldiers now to want to grow beards,” Sgt. Maj. Dailey said, the newspaper reported Sunday. “And we’re not avoiding the conversation. I think we’re going to get to it.”
“Soldiers would ask here and there, but it’s gained traction since the Army directive for religious accommodations,” Sgt. Maj. Moore said during a Feb. 28 phone interview.
The biggest obstacle appears to be figuring out how long beards can grow before they become a liability during nuclear, biological or chemical attacks. A test conducted in October by the Army Research Laboratory did not fare well for those sporting beards.
“The baseline folks [without beards] passed. Everyone else degraded in some form or another,” Lamar Garrett, field element chief with ARL, told the newspaper. “If we really wanted to do some serious analysis, we could look at what was the degradation of an individual with a beard that’s an inch-and-a-half, two inches, etc.”
Further testing at the Natick Soldier Research Development & Engineering Center in Massachusetts are expected to conclude in late June.
Sgt. Major of the Army Dan Dailey noted that troops in countries such as Norway strategically shave to allow for a proper seal of their gas masks, while other nations require personnel to shave beards on deployment.
“As of now, there are no plans to change the policy,” Sgt. Major Dailey said. “Army leaders and researchers are currently reviewing the wear of beards by soldiers in the Army. Any potential change in policy will be made with careful consideration to the professionalism, standards, discipline, readiness and safety of all of our soldiers.”