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Should military relax clean-shave requirement?



An op-ed in today’s Wall Street Jrl urges military to loosen restrictions on soldiers having beards. The article states that “The only physical risk to bearded soldiers could be difficulty sealing gas masks in a chemical attack. These aren’t only rare - the last time the US military saw significant gas attacks in combat was World War I – but modern gas masks have the potential to seal over beards. That has been the experience of Army Cpl. Simrampreet Lamba, a Sikh soldier who has been granted a religious exemption. Bearded European pilots routinely fly with sealed masks.”

It’s true enough that some types of respiratory protection equipment don’t require a good seal. I can easily understand why this type of equipment would work for pilots while they’re strapped into their seats, but if the soldier needs to move about freely, a good fitting “full face” mask seems a must-have item to me. Respiratory protection is also vital against biological weapons, and can minimize intake of radioactive material associated with nuclear weapons. Saying that chemical weapons haven’t been used much since WWI isn’t so persuasive.

It’s been decades since I conducted respirator fit tests as a radiation protection technician at commercial nuclear power plants, but I am very skeptical of eliminating facial hair restrictions.

Ref: M.L. Cavanaugh (a senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, a professor of practice with Arizona State U, and co-editor of “Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict”), “The Military Shouldn’t Shave Its Numbers”, The Wall Street Journal, Oct 29, 2019, p. A17 -


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