Facial hair in the military
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Facial hair in the military has been at various times common, prohibited, or an integral part of the uniform.
- 1 Asia
- 2 Europe
- 3 Americas
- 4 Oceania
- 5 References
In the armed forces (and police) of India, only Sikhs are allowed to wear beards as their religion expressly requires followers to do so. They are required to keep it neatly tied in a hairnet or keep it trimmed. In fact, in Sikh-only units there are instances of personnel transferred out by the unit Commander for their refusal to wear beard and hair as required by Sikh religion, although no official regulation exists on this.
Navy personnel are allowed to grow beards subject to the permission of the respective Commanding Officer.
Regular army on active duty are sometimes exempt from the facial-hair regulations for the duration of their 'tour' if their task makes access to such facilities difficult.
Beards to a certain length were traditionally permitted in the Iraqi security forces, however a ban was brought into effect in April 2012 due to public associations between beards and certain sectarian militias in Iraq. As a result of the change Iraqi soldiers and police must now be clean shaven.
The IDF prohibits the growing of facial hair unless a special request form has been filed and approved. The requests are generally for religious reasons and for health reasons, such as acne. Once the form has been approved, it is valid for no more than a single year, after which it has to be renewed.
Beards are not allowed in the Lebanese Armed Forces. Only trimmed moustaches are allowed that don't pass the upper lip.
Beards are permitted in Pakistan Army . There is a special allowance for bigger moustaches but they must be neat and trimmed . Although most of the officers are clean shaven. Javed Nasir was a 3 star general who kept a traditional beard as done by most of the Muslims.
The Navy does not allow moustaches alone, but does allow full-set beards. Moustaches but not beards are permitted in the Army and Air Force. However, members of the Commando and Special Forces regiments are allowed to wear beards if based outside their home camps.
Beards are not allowed in the Syrian Army. Trimmed moustaches, however, are allowed.
The Austrian Armed Forces permits moustaches and sideburns, as long as they are neatly trimmed.
Danish Army personnel are generally allowed to wear any well kept beard. Stubble, however, is not allowed. Full beards are popular among units deployed in Afghanistan, as it is easier to maintain when in the field. This also helps break down cultural barriers between the Danish and the Afghans, as most Afghan men wear full beards, and because many Danes grow red-coloured beards, an Afghan symbol of bravery.
Soldiers who belong to Den Kongelige Livgarde (The Royal Life Guards) are not allowed to have beards when on guard duty. Additionally, Danish soldiers are not required to have short haircuts, though most have.
Since the Napoleonic era and throughout the 19th century, sappers (combat engineers) of the French Army could wear full beards. Élite troops, such as grenadiers, had to wear large moustaches. Infantry chasseurs were asked to wear moustaches and goatees; and hussars, in addition to their moustache, usually wore two braids in front of each ear, to protect their neck from sword slashes. These traditions were gradually abandoned since the beginning of the 20th century, except for the French Foreign Legion sappers (see below).
The "decree N° 75-675 regarding regulations for general discipline in the Armies of 28 July 1975, modified" regulates facial hair in the French armed forces. Military personnel are allowed to grow a beard or moustache only during periods when they are out of uniform. The beard must be "correctly trimmed", and provisions are stated for a possible ban of beards by the military authorities to ensure compatibility with certain equipment.
However, within the Foreign Legion, sappers are traditionally encouraged to grow a large beard. Sappers chosen to participate in the Bastille Day parade are in fact specifically asked to stop shaving so they'll have a full beard when they march down the Champs-Élysées.
The moustache was an obligation for gendarmes until 1933. By tradition, some gendarmes may still grow a moustache.
Submariners may be bearded, clean-shaved, or "patrol-bearded", growing a beard for the time of a patrol in reminiscence of the time of the diesel submarines whose cramped space allowed for rustic and minimal personal care.
French soldiers of the First World War were known by the nickname 'poilu' meaning 'hairy one' in reference to their facial hair.
In the Third Reich-era Wehrmacht, facial hair beyond a small neatly trimmed moustache was against regulations, though such regulations were often relaxed under field conditions. The latter was particularly true in the case of the Kriegsmarine and Gebirgsjäger. Growth of a full beard was the norm for U-boat crews on active duty, though facial hair was expected to be shaved off soon after reaching port.
The present-day regulations of the Bundeswehr allow soldiers to grow a beard on condition that it be trimmed, unobtrusive and well-kept. Beards must not impact the proper use of any military equipment, for example such, as the gas-mask. Moreover, stubble may not be shown; thus a clean-shaven soldier who wants to start growing a beard must do so during his furlough.
According to German military tradition, soldiers should not have beards, only moustaches. Therefore, this form of facial hair is still the only one allowed to members of the so-called Wachbataillon (Guard Battalion), which is deployed for solely protocol-related duties. Likewise, superior officers are rarely seen with large beards.
In the Greek armed forces, only the navy permits seamen to wear a beard. Neatly trimmed moustaches are the only facial hair permitted in the army.
The growing of beards is not permitted in any branch of the Irish Defence Forces. Moustaches are permitted with permission. Sideburns are not allowed beyond ear length. The Irish police force similarly does not allow any uniformed members to grow beards, but does allow moustaches on the upper lip and ear length sideburns.
In the Italian armed forces, beards are only allowed during enrollment; sideburns are still strictly forbidden, and they can only reach the middle of the tragus. In the various branches of the police, no specific law is in force. Stubble is permitted outside of ceremonial occasions.
In the Royal Netherlands Army, officers and soldiers may only grow beards after permission has been obtained. As in many other armies, automatic permission is given for certain medical conditions. Mustaches may be grown without asking permission. Beards are worn at times by the Royal Netherlands Marines and by Royal Netherlands Navy personnel. All facial hair in the Netherlands armed forces is subject to instant removal when operational circumstances demand it. Recent operations in Afghanistan under the ISAF have seen a trend of growing "tour beards", both for bonding and as a way of advancing contacts with the Afghan population, who regard a full beard as a sign of manhood. A beard without a mustache is uncommon in the Netherlands.
The Royal Guard is required to be clean-shaven. Most operative personnel are not allowed to wear beards (so as not to interfere with gas masks) unless:
- The soldier obtains express permission to grow his beard from a high-ranking officer.
- The soldier already has a beard upon his enlistment and requests to continue growing it or maintain it at its present length.
Although, in the enduring operations in Afghanistan, many soldiers have grown full beards.
Traditionally, Russian soldiers of Russian Tsardom wore beards, but during the reign of Peter the Great they were completely banned in the army and even for civilians, except members of the clergy. Peter did however make moustaches a requirement for every soldier excluding officers, and all of the Russian infantry of the imperial reign could be seen sporting them, often growing beyond the upper-lip. Although the typical image of the imperial Russian soldier shown him with a beard, they were not universally permitted until 1895. Cavalrymen also met these requirements. Officers and staff on the other hand grew whatever hair they wished, and generally kept with the fashion of the time.
The regulations requires personnel to be "well shaved" (välrakad). Within the Royal Guard (Högvakten), the royal companies (Livkomp) and other personnel performing ceremonial duties, temporary or on a regular basis, the regulations are strictly enforced.
Within other units beards tends to be allowed under the discretion of the company commander (or other higher ranking commander). The general provisions of well managed appearance is enforced also when it comes to beards.
Soldiers are however by practice allowed to grow beard during service abroad, for example in Afghanistan.
The motivation for the regulation prohibiting beard is that it interferes with the gas-mask and makes it difficult to achieve a perfect air-tight fit. Shorter beard and gun grease or ointment is one remedy but will increase the time for the application of the gas-mask which in turn will put bearded personnel at increased risk of exposure.
Although wearing a moustache is very common among Turkish men, according to the Internal Service Law, active personnel are not allowed to grow a beard.
Ukrainian Cossacks traditionally have a distinctive facial hair style - long "cossack" moustache was very popular across Ukraine during Middle Ages until modern times. The tradition dates back at least to the times of prince of Kyevan Rus' Sviatoslav I of Kiev famous for his military campaigns in the east and south. Sviatoslav had distinctive moustache and hair style (oseledets or chupryna) that almost every Ukrainian cossack had centuries after his times.
The length of the cossack moustache was important - the longer the better. Sometimes one had to tuck them away behind one's ears.
Some cossacks were wearing beards as well, but this type of facial hair was not very popular in Ukraine in general and in Ukraine's military in particular.
Until the mid-19th century, facial hair was unusual in the British Army, except for the infantry pioneers, who traditionally wore beards. A small minority of officers wore moustaches. During the 1800s, the attitude to facial hair changed as a result of the Indian and Asian Wars. Many Middle Eastern and Indian cultures associated wisdom and power with facial hair. As a result, facial hair, moustaches and side whiskers in particular, became increasingly common on British soldiers stationed in Asia. In the mid-19th century, during the Crimean War, all ranks were encouraged to grow large moustaches, and full beards during winter.
After the Crimean war, regulations were introduced that prevented serving soldiers of all ranks from shaving above their top lip, in essence making moustaches compulsory for those who could grow them, although beards were later forbidden. This remained in place until 1916, when the regulation was abolished by an Army Order dated 6 October 1916. It was issued by Lieutenant-General Sir Nevil Macready, Adjutant-General to the Forces, who loathed his own moustache and immediately shaved it off. However, there is considerable evidence in photographs and film footage that the earlier regulations were widely ignored and that many British soldiers of all ranks were clean-shaven even before 1916.
Since that time, the British Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Marines have allowed moustaches and connected side whiskers only. Exceptions are beards grown for medical reasons, such as temporary skin irritations, or for religious reasons (usually by Sikhs or Muslims), although in the event of conflict in which the use of chemical or biological weapons is likely, they may be required to shave a strip around the seal of a respirator. Infantry pioneer warrant officers, colour sergeants and sergeants also traditionally wear and are permitted to wear beards; although not compulsory, most do wear them. Beards are also permitted to special forces when on covert intelligence operations or behind enemy lines.
More recently, the British Army has been seen sporting a full range of stubble, moustaches and beards in Afghanistan in an effort to blend in with the generally bearded Afghan men, for whom a beard is seen as a sign of virility and authority.
The Royal Navy has always allowed beards, but never moustaches alone, and since at least the early 20th century has permitted its members to wear only a "full set" (i.e. a full beard and moustache). A beard or moustache may not be worn without the other and the beard must be full (i.e. cover the whole jawline) and joined to the moustache. If, after a period without shaving, it becomes clear that the individual cannot grow a proper full set, his commanding officer may order him to shave it off.
Any style of facial hair is allowed to British police officers, as long as it is neatly trimmed.
Beards and sideburns are not permitted by the regular Mexican military, without any exception. Soldiers at any rank must be clean-shaved and short haired.
Beards and sideburns are banned in all military and police forces since the early 20th century, a clean shaved face is considered part of a spirit of order, hygiene and discipline. Stubble is also considered unacceptable and controlled with severity. Well-trimmed moustaches are allowed in most of these branches, although in some cases this is a privilege of officers and sub-officers, and it's not allowed to be grown while on duty.
Before the end of 20th century the Navy became a singularity within the Argentine Armed Forces as Adm. Joaquín Stella, then Navy Chief of Staff allowed beards in 2000 for officers with ranks above Teniente de Corbeta (Ensign), according to Section 188.8.131.52 of the Navy Uniform regulations (R.A-1-001). Adm. Stella gave the example himself by becoming the first bearded Argentine admiral since Adm. Sáenz Valiente in the 1920s. Non commissioned officers can wear beards from Suboficial Segundo (Petty Officer) rank, and upwards.
Protocol still requires officers to appear clean-shaved on duty, thus forcing those who choose to sport beards to grow them while on leave. Both full beards and goatees are allowed, as long as they proffer a professional, non-eccentric image. Nowadays, bearded Argentine naval and marine officers and senior NCO's are a relatively common sight.
The Brazilian Army, Brazilian Navy and Brazilian Air Force permit moustaches, as long as they are trimmed to just above the upper lip. Recruits, however, may not wear moustaches. Beards are generally not allowed except for special exceptions, such as covering a deformity. In such cases, a beard is permitted under authorization.
The Canadian Forces permits moustaches, provided they be neatly trimmed and do not pass beyond the corners of the mouth. Generally speaking, beards are not permitted to CF personnel with the following exceptions:
- Members wearing the naval uniform ashore (tradition); seagoing personnel must now shave daily.
- Members of an infantry pioneer platoon (tradition)
- Members who must maintain a beard due to religious requirements (Muslims, Sikhs or orthodox Jews, for example)
- Members with a medical condition which precludes shaving
Personnel with beards may still be required to modify or shave off the beard, as environmental or tactical circumstances dictate (e.g., to facilitate the wearing of a gas mask).
Beards are also allowed to be worn by personnel conducting OPFOR duties.
Excluding limited exemptions for religious accommodation, the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps have policies that prohibit beards on the basis of hygiene, the necessity of a good seal for chemical weapon protective masks, and the official position that uniform personal appearance and grooming contribute to discipline and a sense of camaraderie.
All branches of the U.S. Military currently prohibit beards for a vast majority of recruits, although some mustaches are still allowed, based on policies that were initiated during the period of World War I.
On November 10, 1970, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Elmo Zumwalt explicitly authorized beards for active duty Naval personnel, in his Z-gram number 57, "Elimination of Demeaning or Abrasive Regulation," although his position was that they were already implicitly allowed based on policy changes made by his predecessor, Thomas H. Moorer:
1. Those demeaning or abrasive regulations generally referred to in the fleet as "Mickey Mouse" or "Chicken" regs have, in my judgment, done almost as much to cause dissatisfaction among our personnel as have extended family separation and low pay scales. I desire to eliminate many of the most abrasive policies, standardize others which are inconsistently enforced, and provide some general guidance which reflects my conviction that if we are to place the importance and responsibility of "the person" in proper perspective in the more efficient Navy we are seeking, the worth and personal dignity of the individual must be forcefully reaffirmed. The policy changes below are effective immediately and will be amplified by more detailed implementing directives to be issued separately.
A. It appears that my predecessor's guidance in May on the subject of haircuts, beards and sideburns is insufficiently understood and, for this reason, I want to restate what I believed to be explicit: in the case of haircuts, sideburns, and contemporary clothing styles, my view is that we must learn to adapt to changing fashions. I will not countenance the rights or privileges of any officers or enlisted men being abrogated in any way because they choose to grow sideburns or neatly trimmed beards or moustaches or because preferences in neat clothing styles are at variance with the taste of their seniors, nor will I countenance any personnel being in any way penalized during the time they are growing beards, moustaches, or sideburns.
The Navy ban on beards on Naval installations and operational vessels, including its submarine fleet, was reinstated in 1984 by CNO James D. Watkins. This rule is generally ignored on board deployed submarines.
The U.S. Coast Guard allowed beards until 1986, when they were banned by Commandant Admiral Paul Yost. The majority of police forces in the United States still ban their officers from wearing beards. Moustaches however, are generally allowed in both the military and police forces (except for those undergoing basic training).
Those with skin conditions such as pseudofolliculitis barbae or severe acne are allowed to maintain short facial hair with the permission of a doctor or medic, but no shaping is allowed, only trimming with an electric razor, or approved regular razor. 1/8 of an inch is usually the limit for this condition.
Exceptions for religious accommodation
In 2010, the U.S. Army granted waivers for a number of Sikh soldiers and one Muslim soldier, permitting them to have beards (and in the case of the Sikh soldiers, to have "unshorn" hair covered by turbans). In 2010, a rabbi filed suit against the Army for permission to be commissioned as a Jewish chaplain without shaving his beard, noting (among other issues) that another Jewish Chaplain, Colonel Jacob Goldstein, has been serving (first in the New York State National Guard and later in the United States Army Reserve) since 1977 with a beard. Effective January 22, 2014, the US military expanded its policies on religious accommodation and allowed all officer and enlisted personnel to request permission to wear beards and articles of clothing for religious reasons. 
Beards are normally not allowed in the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force, however, neatly trimmed moustaches and sideburns are allowed. Regulations apply, however. The moustache can not be grown past the top lip. The sideburns are not to be past the point where the bottom of the ear connects to the facial skin. In some circumstances though, such as medical or religious reasons beards may be permitted. The one exception to this rule however, is the assault pioneers, who are allowed to grow a beard.
In the Royal Australian Navy, members may grow a beard but only with approval from their Commanding Officer. The beard must be complete, joined from sideburns, covering the chin and joining the moustache. A moustache on its own is not permitted.
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