I remember when I was a young Artillery Battery Commander, Bravo Battery, 6th Field Artillery, in the First Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kansas. After about six months into the command, I suggested to my First Sergeant Bernardo Aquino, that we have a unit “sensing session.” That is when you get all the troops together, and allow them to speak their mind. I was a tough commander, but I explained task and purpose to the soldiers, and why we didn’t just seek to meet the standard, but excel beyond.
Well, there were rumblings within the unit that I favored certain groups of soldiers in the Battery over others. You know, those damn “Barracks Lawyers” spreading rumors. Well, as a result of the near two-hour session, the soldiers found out that I was tough on everyone. See, when you conduct non-judicial punishment known as an Article 15, it is not openly known of the punishment. As well, the unit was not always aware of when I tried to be fair, and lenient, in trying to build up a young troop’s character. However, the standard was never in question, and it was applied equally to every soldier in the “Swift and Bold” Battery.
However, what I see happening in our military now is that there is an attempt to soften, or ease, the standard for some to accommodate personal preference. As well, it appears that our military is heading down a slippery slope of trying to be more in alignment with civilian culture, and society, rather than be separate. After all, the profit margin in the military is not measured in dollars, but in lives. The military that I remember, and that of my dad and older brother, took someone and conformed them to the culture and standards of the military — not the other way around. If our military continues down that path, well, I do not see the end results being very beneficial. And sometimes the example can seem very innocuous, in the beginning.
As reported by the Western Journal:
“The U.S. Navy has recently rolled back restrictions on hairstyles for female service members, which has led to a grassroots movement among men regarding their facial hair. According to The Associated Press, the Navy announced in a recent Facebook Live video that it would be repealing bans on female hairstyles including certain buns, ponytails and locks. The move was in response to complaints from some recruits, especially minorities, who felt the branch’s restrictions did not properly address all hair types. Comments among several sailors in response to that video led to a social media campaign that has attracted the attention of major news and military publications. Proponents of the #WeWantOurBeards campaign have expressed a variety of reasons they support loosening restrictions that have been in place for more than three decades. As TheBlaze reported, men in the Navy are permitted to wear neatly trimmed mustaches, but beards are generally prohibited. A commanding officer does have the authority to issue a waiver for special circumstances, such as religion. Beards were initially banned in 1984, according to the AP, because they could potentially hinder sailors’ use of certain masks they might need to wear. Those who support the fledgling movement, however, argue that properly trimmed beards are compatible with the current generation of respirators and other equipment.
A petition grew from the frustrations of a few Facebook comments and advocates for a Navy rule change allowing “professional and regulated beards” among those serving in the branch.
As of Tuesday morning, the online petition had received signatures from more than 7,500 supporters. The author, identified as Trevor Amos, argued that times have changed and giving young men today the option of joining the Navy with a beard would open recruiters up to a new pool.”
Okay, let me tell y’all that during my first tour of duty as a young Airborne Lieutenant I had a mustache. That was a cultural no-no, a violation of an unwritten rule, and I did catch crap for it. Now, for my official DA photo I would shave that sucker off, but I was trying to revolt against the Army Airborne Officer culture. Yes, I ended up shaving it off for good, and do not care for facial hair to this day. That is how I learned to conform to a military culture, simple, innocuous, but it was rooted in discipline, and standards. To this day, yes, I cut my own hair, and I still maintain a high and tight haircut. Why? Because it appears disciplined and it fits the image that the US Army developed, and inculcated in me.
Yes, there are fellas in the Navy with beards, they are called Navy SEALS, and one would tend to believe they had earned that right. My problem with this episode is that it all got started when a standard was relaxed for one group, it appears, that being minority females. When you make specific accommodations for one group when it comes to grooming standards, you open up Pandora’s Box, as others think, why can’t we do what we want? And that leads to the breakdown of discipline, because the choice was to lower the standard.
The goal should not be to make it easier to recruit young men and women. As a matter of fact, our military recruiters should be empowered to tell potential recruits, “this is our standard, you wanna join our team, meet it — we don’t seek to meet you.” I must admit, when I went running with my nephew on Ft. Sill last week, I was appalled at the number of soldiers that I saw just walking, and I am not talking about with a rucksack on their back, or speed walking, just lolly-gagging. My nephew and I clipped along a four mile run, finishing at 36 minutes. That was the XVIIIth Airborne Corps standard, and at 57 years of age, I was thrilled that I could still attain it. So, if we have troops that complain the standard is too hard, or not fair, do we change it? I see that happening in other areas of military training, and that is not a good thing.
There is a reason why when troops enter military service at basic training, they all get the knob haircut. The lesson learned is that you are all the same, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine. There is a reason why all the females have the same hair standard, it is no longer about you, and your accommodation, you are now part of a team. This is why the Army’s marketing theme of “Army of One” was an abject failure — they tried to focus on individuality, which was accommodating the culture. I loved the previous theme, “Be All You Can Be.” That is what it means to accept the challenge of meeting the standard, and excelling. I like the theme of “Army Strong” — not you as an individual, but the team.
But, when we start saying you can have this hairstyle, and you can have this type of grooming standard, we breakdown the team. We surrender to the culture of the “selfie.”
I would hope that the US Navy would say, “hey, we were wrong on this, and there is only one standard of grooming for males and females. It is a voluntary service, if you want things your way, go to Burger King.” As for our Armed Services, set a standard, you will be surprised, when you challenge young people, there are still those who will accept it.
During his 22 year career in the United States Army, Lieutenant Colonel West served in several combat zones and received many honors including a Bronze Star, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, one with Valor device, and a Valorous Unit Award.
In November of 2010, Allen was elected to the United States Congress, representing Florida’s 22nd District.
He is a Fox News Contributor, Director of the Booker T. Washington Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Senior Fellow at the Media Research Center, contributing columnist for Townhall.com, and author of Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Family, Faith and Freedom. His forthcoming book, Hold Texas, Hold the Nation: Victory or Death, is due fall 2018 from Brown Books Publishing Group.