Facial Hair Freedom: A Potential Policy Shift For Military Members


Airmen and Space Force Guardians may soon be able to grow beards under a proposed pilot program introduced by the House Armed Services Committee this week.

According to Military.com, the proposal is one of the most requested policy changes among the ranks. The beard proposal was included in the committee’s draft of the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act. The initiative instructs the Air Force secretary to “establish a pilot program to allow members of the Air Force and Space Force to grow beards” while studying their compatibility with military equipment—namely the airtight seals of gas masks.

Supporters of the program point to other NATO militaries that have permitted beards without any evidence of diminished operational effectiveness.

The legislation would also evaluate the effects of beard growth on discipline, morale and unity within the ranks. Specifically, it questions whether facial hair inclusion would foster morale and inclusivity or introduce bias against service members.

Under current regulations, military members are only permitted to have beards for medical or religious purposes.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to address its version of the defense legislation next month. Following discussions in both chambers and potential inclusion in the final bill, airmen could see the pilot program’s introduction within six months.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.


  1. Sorry … I don’t see this as either necessary OR a good idea. One of the bulwarks of military bearing is clean and sharp looking people … not a bunch of hippy looking dudes! The military is supposed to be the creme’ de la creme’ of society and the USAF was always at the top of that heap. I believe this’ll have as much a detrimental impact as a positive one. What’s next … full body tattoos? And what about oxygen masks on flight crew? Next thing ya know … the military will look like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. I know … I’m ‘old’ school. Let the attacks on Larry begin … (I served 21 so I’m entitled to my opinion).

    • Thinking about it some more … IF the military is having a recruitment problem, bowing to these sorts of ‘demands’ isn’t the way to do it. Restart the draft. Everyone wants to be free but too few want to participate in seeing that it happens. A forced lottery draft is the way to solve that problem.

    • You sound like some kind of brownshoe hippie basher from 1970. Reread the article for a perspective of what is proposed, why, and the expected effect…not a three-ring freakshow. Military bearing doesn’t eliminate beards.
      Not sure where you got that ludicrous “creme de la creme of society” idea. The recruiting system has NEVER used this as a selection basis and belonging doesn’t elevate anyone, as YOU SUPPOSE. Sounds like you never served, or had a reality extraction surgery.

      • Try reading the first paragraph of AFI 36-2903 which I posted below.
        How many years did YOU serve in the military?

    • “ One of the bulwarks of military bearing is clean and sharp looking people … ”

      You want Boy Scouts. Not soldiers.

      For thousands of years, warriors have grown beards. A soldiers uniform should be slightly disheveled and have a little mud on it. Boots should be well broken in and absolutely no polish. A soldier should be well hydrated, but always slightly hungry. He should always smell of sweat and CLP.

      If you want tents, campfires, smores and kumbaya while the adults are “dining in”, call your Boy Scouts.

      If it’s a time to “break glass in case of emergency”, send in a soldier. A warrior. And he should be well endowed with facial hair.

  2. I agree. I’m “old school” I suppose, but beards??? Maybe at most a stubble, but as Larry notes, that looks sloppy or unkempt. And long beards??? How long??? Chest length??? No. A draft might be some sort of an incentive, but so would a decent salary that provides for financial security and a solidly “middle” class life style. Beards??? No.

    • Rich … as a retiree, I am flabbergasted by the pay scales today’s military are being paid. I do not feel that pay is a substantial disincentive. Trying to run a family might be but the military was always designed to have young single men initially joining. In MY time, the saying was, “Under 4 or E-4 … don’t get married.” Living off base might be a problem for some in some areas but there are some ways to ameliorate that problem although it could be better.

      I went in during the late 60’s Viet Nam time … I clearly remember being paid less than $100/mo initially. It took over three years before rank increases and pay increases gave me enough income to be able to afford things … like flying. At the end — as a Sr NCO — I was making almost equivalent salary to comparable civilian occupations when the tax advantages of some parts of my pay were factored in. My retired pay isn’t enough to do much more than keep me alive but I view it as “late” payment for an earlier time when I wasn’t being paid diddly. So when people accuse retired military as having a great deal … it is EARNED from an earlier time; I go berserk when I hear such accusations.

      I think this move is a sly way to bring a few additional people in or keep a few without paying them more. Note that it is being driven by the congress and not the military. As you rise through the ranks, a bio is often required and a current pic is part of that. I shudder to think of full beards on USAF types. YIKES! WTH are those people thinking? Not long ago, I saw where the USAF is allowing members of Indian ancestry their head gear in regulation USAF color. Same story, different flavor. And don’t get my started on those trans-gender types. I am SO glad I’m retired!

      • This article has absolutely nothing to do with military pay and benefits. Sorry you wasted so much time on this, and ours as well. Glad you are retired. I’d hate to be under your management on duty.

  3. Fire and altitude are hostile environments and require competent, well trained people wearing the appropriate gear to survive these challenging extremes. Usually there is more than a few lives at stake and the folks responsible for making the right decisions need every advantage that training and equipment can offer. That demands clean shaven pilots. If you’re worried about fashion show looks maybe you’re in the wrong business.

    • Sorry nonsense — fire brigades have used that argument for years. And then you look at some deep sea divers, needing face masks covering nose and mouth and diving to deep, with full beards and never a leak to be seen.
      Fact is not having beards / long hair is due to military belief that to create a fighting unit first have to break the individual will of recruits — make them look ugly, march for hours, and, often, even in 2024, humiliate them.
      Linked also to various fundamentalist Christian readings of the bible, supposedly saying only women should have long hair.
      The funny thing is, that the beard craze in the late 19th century, the first to be photographed was actually inspired by the military — all those hairy canaries returning from the Crimea…

      • Sorry, I can’t agree with that distraction. What matters is factual, not fictional requirements using SCBA’s and breathing apparatus in hostile settings, not a personal whim regarding style or choice.

    • Never saw clean shaven as a qualification for a pilot’s ability to effectively fly and fight, or at any time put lives on the line. But you know, you do you.

  4. The US Navy has allowed beards for a long time; doesn’t seem to be much of a reduction in their military capability. Even if they were required to shave by the time the ship docked.

    Sure, if some aspect of the JOB requires being clean-shaven, so be it. But beyond that…well, don’t see how the grooming standards of 35-10 are really that applicable. Hair on the noggin, big ol’ mustaches, or hairy beards don’t really affect how the service members can do their jobs. Oddly enough, most pictures you see of US Navy SEALS seem to show bearded folks.

    But EVERYbody knows that people with beards, big mustaches, or long hair can’t fight. People like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Teddy Roosevelt, Light Horse Harry Lee, etc. Heck, during the Revolutionary War, the officers would actually wear wigs. They WANTED to look like they had long hair.

    The “modern” military grooming standards stem from one thing: The understanding of how diseases can be transferred by lice when the troops were cooped up in muddy trenches. Short hair in this circumstances was just a matter of hygiene.

    I’ve been out of the Air Force for over 40 years, but I think they licked the cootie problem in the dormitories a long time ago….

    • AFR 35-10! You’re showing your age, Ron!
      See: DAFI36-2903 29 FEBRUARY 2024 (Air Force Instruction – Dress and Appearance):

      “1.1.2. Pride in an Airman’s personal appearance and uniform wear greatly enhances the esprit-de-corps essential to an effective military force. Therefore, Airmen must maintain a high standard of dress and personal appearance through adherence to the five elements of this standard: neatness, cleanliness, safety, uniformity, and military image. The first four are
      absolute, objective criteria needed for the efficiency and well-being of the Air Force; the fifth, military image, is subjective, but still necessary. Appearance in uniform exemplifies one’s military image. The American public and its elected representatives draw certain conclusions on military effectiveness based on the image Airmen present. The image of a disciplined and committed Airman instills public confidence that Airmen live by a common standard and respond to military order and discipline. Every Airman has a responsibility to maintain a professional military image as identified in this DAFI, as well as the right, within limits, to express individuality through his or her appearance without lessening the standards.”

      Why the Congress would choose to side step this common sense instruction to satisfy a few “whiners” befuddles me.

      • “AFR 35-10! You’re showing your age, Ron!
        See: DAFI36-2903 29 FEBRUARY 2024 (Air Force Instruction – Dress and Appearance)”

        There they go agin’, changin’ things. Articles of War weren’t good enough, noooo, had to implement that new-fangled UCMJ!

        And stay off my parade ground! 🙂

    • And earrings? And face tattoos with skulls? Indeed this isn’t freedom. Is madness! And I don’t care a tiny bit of the comms that I figure that will follow, because I don’t give a dam to the madness!

  5. I vote first enlistment clean shaven. After that, reup and neat facial hair ok. Former USAF.

    • Actually, instead of “first enlistment,” I’d make it a matter of rank. Let NCOs be mustachioed and bearded. One more inducement towards ambition for a young airman!

      Heck, ~150 years ago, mustaches were REQUIRED in the British army…..

        • Sailors in the US used to get a liquor ration as well. In the early days, they didn’t do rum (since the primary producers were British colonies) and they handed out good ‘ol corn liquor instead. The sailors called it after the Robert Smith, the secretary of the Navy that introduced it… “bobsmith.”

          I’ll point out that the liquor ration in the US Army continued through WWII. Not for the enlisted men, of course, but officers received a free ration.

  6. And while I’m at it, caps/hats with uniforms…I know, except flight lines. Protect scalp from skin cancer and the bill also enhances vision without so much sun glare.

  7. Attire standards have been eroding for years
    Look what the typical congregation wear at church anymore
    The typical male facial hair these days is ‘stubble’
    Can’t figure out the appeal?
    Maybe the gals go wild over it
    It cuts down shaving intervals

    • What your typical congregation wears at church has nothing to do with beards in the miltary.

    • I recall Robin Olds having a mustache that was way out of 35-10 limits until he finally made BG. In AF pilot training I had one a wee bit out of limits and an old time staff instructor (LTC) told me first thing at our T-37 preflight brief that he could tell that I had no “air discipline “, maybe because I smiled too much. In the subsequent lesson I demonstrated that I could fly the tweet better than that old desk jockey for which he made no comment at all. Robin was right since in 4 short tours to Nam, I was bulletproof.

  8. Since most “veterans” these days are not directly in combat; it makes little sense to act as if they are.

  9. My “Old Corps” instincts prefer the clean shaven look, although in field combat water was precious and we were pretty ragged.
    But that was during the VN time, and things are a changin!
    I would rather see beards in the field than lawyers second guessing enemy kills.

  10. 27 years in, with no beards allowed in the British Army then. They do now. In these enlightened times I think facial hair should be allowed for all serving personnel – including the ladies! (Stand by for incoming…)

  11. As an air traffic controller back when familiarization flights in airline cockpits were authorized, controllers (at least in my FAA region) were told they would not be allowed in the cockpit with beards. I don’t remember if this was an airline requirement, or FAA. But the reason seemed to be fear of alarming passengers; i.e., that beards were thought to be typical of hi-jackers. That has certainly changed re the bearded passenger-count these days, not to mention the foreign airline cockpit crew-members with beards.

  12. Check Canada’s rules on dress and deportment. Any length or color facial hair. You may wear a dress,,,, but,,,, you must wear regulation underwear. The Black Watch will hate that! Recruiting is way down. I wonder why?
    The only saving grace is ” you must be appropriate for the mission requirements”

  13. The Navy allowed my beard, and all the others. Some were trim and some looked like lumberjacks. When Reagan took office one of the first things the new Navy Sec ordered was de-Zumwalt the Navy. He suggested that beards were not “military” enough.

    The academy grad Captain and several other academy officers on my nuclear powered ship shaved theirs first.

    I decided that was it, no reason for me to reup later in ‘81. I kept mine and still have it today.

    If you look at SEAL team members in Afghan and Iraq photos, they have beards and are able to fight effectively.

  14. Larry S. An inadvertent finger twitch reported your comment. My apologies. As a matter of fact, I too am old school (20 years – Army).

    While I now sport a beard (trimmed and not scruffy), I believe our military should remain clean shaven. A neat trimmed mustache is OK though.

    So what’s after a beard? Long hair? Sloppy uniforms? Loss of attention to detail in the Armed Forces is going to start getting service members injured.

      • RAF Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji, DFC, during WWII. A very brave and successful combat pilot.

        According to Wikipedia:

        “As a Sikh, Pujji insisted on retaining his dastar Sikh headwear—even while flying, upon which he had also attached his RAF insignia, even carrying a spare dastar, in case it was needed….Pujji’s insistence on wearing the dastar inflight meant he could not attach the oxygen mask, it would later cost him an irreparably damaged lung caused by exposure to high-altitude flying.”

  15. As a veteran (RCAF, USN & LW exchange) of 24 years & another 24 commercial this is the thin edge of the wedge. We’ve got a woke progressive government here in Canada and it’s gone completely sideways. Long hair, tats, fingernail polish, piercings and coming soon trans dress in uniform. It’s adding to a challenging recruiting problem, alienating those that do want to join.

    We were told for decades we couldn’t have beards “due to the masks” even those in non high performance aircraft. Hired a Sikh and overnight that impediment was gone. And I have absolutely nothing against Sikhs.

  16. 1”=1’. Just keep chipping away. The bad guys are watching. You’re joining the military not a social club.

    • First they need to join the military.

      If they start eliminating young people with tats, drug use, beards, etc the pool gets awful small. Especially in the South, where most recruits come from.

      We’ll likely need national service then. As long as there’s an adequate alternative service, I’m all for it.

  17. I spent 10 years in the US Army – 9 of it in Special Forces (3 Active, 3 National Guard and 3 Active Reserve). Mustaches were allowed, neatly trimmed, but in Vietnam we stretched the regs a bit (semi-handlebars). In VN I spent about 1/2 of my 16-1/2 month tour in the “field” on patrols. In a tropical environment with minimal sanitation facilities, it is asking for infection due to the septic environment to shave, so none of us shaved in the field until we came back into our base camps. Normally we spent about 30 days on patrol, much of it in tropical rain forest, and we were really grubby by the time we got back. Once we had good sanitation facilities we showered and shaved (except for mustaches!) asap. It felt good…first a shower and a shave, then beer and a steak….

    In the Middle East our SF and Seal Operators wear beards for a different reason – it helps them blend into the local culture. In my experience, beards and mustaches do not impair the ability to fight. I believe that clean-shaven US Army troops started in WWI when General “Black Jack” Pershing required it, and I have heard that it had something to do with effectively wearing gas masks, which were very important at the time, or possibly it made patching up face wounds easier and quicker. Our military (Army and Navy) up to that time had worn beards and did quite well in combat.

    I can see where a USAF flight crew wearing oxygen masks might actually be uncomfortable wearing the mask with a beard, but I don’t know that from experience, so perhaps one of you military pilots could speak to that. I have never seen any US Army pilots wearing oxygen masks, probably because Army aircraft do not usually go high enough to need them.

    • I forgot to add that General Pershing had a mustache his whole career. It was a semi-handlebar and probably would not meet today’s USAF regs.

  18. Here in rural Wisconsin, I can look around the 10 or 15 tables in a restaurant and discover that I am the only male without facial hair with beards outnumbering mustaches. Allowing beards in the military would increase the qualified applicant pool. The effect would be similar to what happened when women were admitted to combat roles – in increase in qualified applicants.

  19. Maybe the powers that be should check the naval archives regarding one of the Z-Grams (initiated by Admiral Zumwalt) that allowed beards back in the 70’s – how it worked out and why they eliminated the policy.

    • Reagan’s Sec Navy didn’t like Zumwalt. The beards and dropping the crackerjack uniforms were part of a recruiting drive.

  20. The Italian guy in the F-104 video from the other day had one. That gave a slightly negative impression (which I don’t insist was correct or justified, just was what it was). I noticed him tightening the mask straps at one point, and it looked like he/they were going pretty high. He was I take it, a civilian.

    The old USAF moustache rules of not going past the corners of the mouth made for a pretty silly looking one. Robin Olds’ was great, though he joked later about it being a bit of a nuisance.

  21. Number one pilot in USAF last year was flying…wait for it….

    Why run all the gamers off? We need them, in almost every profession. Common sense says let policy fit the mission. A review of old photos indicates that many WWII bombs may have been dropped by pencil thin moustaches anyway.

    Tats? Ban them? What if you need another draft? Would a tat make one 4F? Hey, what about tramp stamps? Who decides what ink is unmilitary…some Bonanza-flying doc?? If arm ink were to be banned, we’d lose a lot of corporate memory in the Navy.

    I’d pick a Robin Olds for my team…everytime. This Memorial weekend reminds us to be very grateful to all who served, clean shaven or otherwise. Thanks to them for giving us the right to enjoy this discussion on policy, over which our opinions may significantly exceed our influence.

  22. Don’t know why folk are getting their knickers in a knot about allowing beards. The Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy have always permitted beards, one of the top scoring fighter pilots in the Falklands war sported a beard under his oxygen mask. Just has to be neat, same as your haircut. Sported a beard myself while serving with the US Army in Vietnam, only issue was the US Army lower ranks continually asking if I was a Rabbi. I’m sure the US military has managed thus far to ensure its personel have neat hair cuts.

  23. “Supporters of the program point to other NATO militaries that have permitted beards”. Sounds like little kids going “but they get to do it!” I was kind of under the impression that WE were the greatest military on earth, and WE set the standard. Next some Air Force drone pilot will be whining and questioning why he has to pass a fitness assessment when all he does is sit at a computer console all day. It is a UNIFORMED service, uniform being the key word here. And in spite of what others have said here, I can tell you from experience, it can be difficult to get a good seal on a face mask, WITHOUT a beard, and physical activity and movement compromise that seal repeatedly. Why add another factor to compromise safety, that adds nothing to effective operations. Oh ya, we’re a feel good country now. What next, no discipline in the military, just time outs?

      • Whoa, there, pilgrim. You might believe that tattoos reduce the wearer’s fighting ability, but I wouldn’t express that opinion in front of any Maori folks….

        Agree there needs to be an approval process, to ensure phrases like “F*** Sergeant Smith” don’t end up gracing our service folks’ chest.

        One guy suggested having one’s favorite plane tattooed on the lower back. A “Ramp Stamp,” if you will… 🙂

        Got my first tattoo last year, right after my 69th birthday. My wife hasn’t reported any lapses in discipline (“Thank you, ma’am, may I have another?”)

        No beards, no tattoos, no cross-dressing….you folks are trying to take ALL of the fun about of being in the Navy.

        [Cross-dressing was a usual feature in crossing-the-equator ceremonies]

    • Again, no one is arguing against requirements related to the JOB. If a service member needs to wear a mask as part of their duties, then implement the physical standards for that job code.

      Facial hair has been allowed in the US Army for longer than it’s been banned. What, should we dig up U. S. Grant and charge him with a UCMJ violation for his beard? Go to West Point and stand at Custer’s grave, yelling, “Cut that damn hair!”? Get the clippers out for Teddy Roosevelt’s mustache?

      Up until the 20th century, there were no real standards. Military grooming standards merely followed the civilian ones. It changed when the hygiene issues associated with trench life became clear.

      Standards such as these should only be implemented when necessary to perform the job.

      • Perhaps we should bring back wool pants and coats, and “drawer” undergarments that went down to the ankles. It wasn’t until 1901 that a practical, safe razor was invented for personal use, and owning a straight razor was a luxury, hence going to the barber shop for a shave. You have options as clearly pointed out here. If you want to have a beard, join the navy! Wait, come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever seen an American naval aviator with a beard, hmmmm.

        • Hate to mention this, but the US Army has ALREADY gone back to old uniforms.

          As far as US Navy Aviators having beards, I believe the Navy discouraged officers from growing them.

          It’s easy to find photos of bearded Royal Navy aviators, of course, including “Sharkey” Ward, who shot down three aircraft during the Argentine war.

          • Funny how folks keep bringing up other countries armed forces. Again, I thought we set the standard that others were measured by.

          • Yes, it’s horrible when people in other countries are granted more freedom than Americans are.

            Military history is an interesting subject, especially when you view examples of hidebound organizations more concerned with “tradition” than with fielding an effective fighting force. Traditions should ENHANCE combat effectiveness…not raise penny-ante barriers that make qualified people shy away.

            The mission of the Air Force is to Fly and to Fight. Anything that doesn’t *directly* contribute to that needs to be examined closely.

        • I wonder if “Kaffias” in different rainbow colours wouldn’t be out of line here as worn by our enlightened university students and acamedia.

  24. Hair grows all over a man’s head. Why should hair in one place be allowed and not others? If a particular serviceman has job requirements for which facial hair would be an impediment, determine an appropriate length and apply it to ALL the hair on said head. Conversely, if a 1/2″ haircut is an appropriate for the head hair, why not the chin? Or the ears and nose, for that matter?

    I have never shaved. I started my current beard and mustache at puberty sixty-odd years ago when, as was tradition for a boy of my age, I was given a shaving razor for my birthday. As a night-owl, I had a hard enough time getting my act together in the morning, and I didn’t need yet another chore. And certainly not one that involved sharp implements. I’ve been shaved only once. It was for a vasectomy, and I wasn’t about to attempt it myself.

  25. Come on Folks…

    The Air Force did an extensive Study way back in the 70’s and determined that (beard) whisker length of 2 cm (that’s just over 3/4 inch) or less had no detrimental effects on O2 Masks seal and effectiveness. And those Masks were 50+ year-old tech! Then there’s this 2018 article in AVweb Flash: h**ps://www.avweb.com/recent-updates/business-military/pilot-beard-ban-debunked/

    This is (and I suspect always has been) primarily about the personal prejudices (and bigotry?) of the Military Top-Brass and Corporate higher-ups!

    While my Airline ‘claimed’ that the ‘No-Beard’ policy for our pilots was due to “O2 Mask seal (long-ago debunked) and “Professional-Appearance Standards” (but of course they didn’t seem to mind that their ‘Cabin-Crews’ appeared “unprofessional” toting their (allowed) beards, there are many articles (and antidotes) out there about the (modern) public perception of beardedness actually fostering ‘trust’ and confidence towards said ‘Professionals’ …Who doesn’t respond to the crusty, seasoned and capable ‘bearded’ Ships-Captain in such a manner?

    Sure, there certainly need to be ‘some’ appearance ‘standards’ (max-length and neatly trimmed for instance) but If we truly were an ‘advanced’ (enlightened?) and free society, we would have deferred to the ‘science’ and respect for individual (personal) preference …making this a ‘non-issue’ long ago.