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Army to update hairstyle, grooming standards

Pfc. Katelyn McCurrie, information technology specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe, Aug. 10, 2020 at the Clay Kaserne motor pool in Wiesbaden, Germany. Photo: LISA BISHOP/DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

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WASHINGTON - Soldiers will find out in January what hairstyle and grooming changes the Army has approved from a review panel's recommendations, according to the service.

"The Army routinely examines our policies to ensure they meet the needs of the force. This is another way we are working to improve the lives of our force by putting people first. We expect to announce the approved changes in January," Lt. Col. Junel Jeffrey, an Army spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The changes follow a Pentagon directive in July for the military services to review their grooming and hairstyle policies "to ensure a standard of equity," Jeffrey said.

The directive came after widespread protests across the United States calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. The panel that met and reviewed the policies was comprised of people of various ranks, units, ages, cultural backgrounds, races and genders, according to the Army statement.

"In addition to reviewing grooming policies to identify and resolve issues of racial inequality, the panel conducted a wider assessment to consider input submitted from soldiers across the force," Jeffrey said.

Their recommendations have now been sent to the Army's senior leadership and are awaiting approval.

Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston tweeted that "hair is absolutely something the Project Inclusion team is actively working. We'll have an update in the next month."

Project Inclusion is a new Army initiative "to improve diversity, equity and inclusion across the force and build cohesive teams," according to a service news release.

The recommendations that the panel submitted on hairstyles would allow women to have more versatility when they are in uniform and also address concerns about their hair that are now being unmet such as hair loss due to alopecia or traction alopecia caused by tight hairstyles such as buns, according to presentation slides about the recommendations published by the online publication Task & Purpose.

Women can now wear ponytails when they are doing physical training, but otherwise their hair needs to be in a bun. The panel has recommended women can wear a ponytail in any uniform as long as it does not fall past the top of the shoulder blades, according to the slides.

The panel also recommended Army regulations no longer specify a minimum hair length for women. Now, women cannot have hair shorter than a quarter of an inch from the scalp. A slide states women who have to shave their hair for Ranger School or Special Forces selection are actually out of regulation.

"Additionally, it should be a woman's choice if she wants to have hair or not. This will also help to alleviate the stress and embarrassment of female soldiers who suffer from alopecia or other medical conditions that causes hair loss or prevents growth. This will help to increase health and wellness," according to one of the slides.

Women also might soon be permitted to wear their locs or twists in a braid if Army leadership accepts the panel's recommendation. Women can only wear one hairstyle at a time, according to current regulations. The panel also recommended women be able to wear a side twist or braid as long as it doesn't interfere with headgear and protective equipment such as a helmet, according to the slide.

Earrings were another appearance item that the panel considered for a regulation change. It recommended allowing women to wear earrings while they are in their Army combat uniform, but only while they are in garrison, not on deployment or in the field, according to a slide. Women can only wear earrings now when they are in their dress uniforms.

The earrings depicted in the presentation slide are small studs, not loops or earrings that hang from the earlobe. Commanders will still have the authority to determine whether wearing the earrings "increases the risk of a safety hazard," according to a slide.

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