Sailors looking back fondly on those hirsute days of yesteryear when they could grow beards without the chief going ballistic have been given the dimmest ray of hope by the Navy‘s top admiral.
“It’s something that we’re taking a look at,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said Tuesday of a possible change to the service’s no-beards policy, before adding a cautionary note: Beards can kill.
“Quite frankly, in my mind, the key thing is safety of people out there in a situation like a fire — right? And can they wear gas masks that are going to seal properly?” Gilday said in a video interview at Defense One’s State of the Navy event. “We’re going to take another look at it.”
But his track record on facial hair would seem to offer little prospect of a change in policy.
In October 2019, shortly after he became CNO, the Navy stopped issuing “no-shave chits,” a form of waiver that let sailors grow beards up to a quarter-inch long if shaving irritated their skin and left “razor bumps.”
The service decided that the condition, which mostly affects Black sailors, could be handled by medical treatment.
Gilday said the subject of beards and skin conditions will be part of studies conducted by Task Force One Navy, which was set up June 30 to promote diversity and identify where the service is falling short on ending discrimination.
Sailors who long to grow beards could look back to the 1970s when the Navy, by order of then-CNO Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, had a different attitude.
In November 1970, Zumwalt issued the 57th of his famous “Z-grams” to the fleet, aimed at getting rid of what he called “Mickey Mouse” regulations that he said impacted morale.
Zumwalt titled his missive “Demeaning Or Abrasive Regulations, Elimination Of.”
“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,” he wrote.
“In the case of haircuts, sideburns and contemporary clothing styles, my view is that we must learn to adapt to changing fashions,” wrote Zumwalt, who sported a mean set of sideburns himself. “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 mustaches or because preferences in neat clothing styles are at variance with the taste of their seniors.”
In the Defense One interview, Gilday made no mention of what Navy policy was decades ago, but said he is trying to keep an open mind on the subject of beards.
“So, if people are complaining about it, I’m not going to play deaf ears and think that I have all of the answers in my beautiful office in the Pentagon,” he said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
© Copyright 2020 Military.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.