Canada’s military is easing its restrictions on beards as it tries to position itself to recruit more young people and allow personnel in uniform more of a say about their appearance.
While moustaches were already permitted in the Canadian Forces, beards have been all but forbidden. The only exceptions to the ban have been made for sailors, for whom it is considered a tradition; for those serving in specialized pioneer engineering units, for whom it is also a tradition; and for individuals who have a religious or medical justification.
But on Wednesday the military announced that policy is changing. Beards will now be allowed — with certain restrictions.
Canadian Armed Forces Chief Warrant Officer Alain Guimond, who helped develop the new policy, said discussions with military personnel made it clear that the existing rules were stricter than required. “When we looked at the population there are a lot of young people coming to enrol (in the military) who are already wearing beards,” he said Wednesday in an interview. “We are getting a lot of requests to have beards.”
He said the changes will improve morale and help make the military more attractive as an employer to younger people.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance personally authorized the changes, Guimond said.
Guimond said young soldiers with whom he’d spoken in the wake of the announcement were supportive of the change. “People are very happy,” he said.
To pass muster, a beard must be worn with a moustache, must be neatly trimmed — especially on the lower neck and cheekbones — and, according to regulation, “it shall not exceed two centimeters in bulk.”
“A member will, on their own accord or upon direction from their commanding officer or designate, shave off unsuccessful attempts to grow a beard,” the message warned.
New recruits will still be required to shave. Beards will be allowed after personnel finish their initial training.
Military commanders also retain the right to order restrictions on beards for safety and operational requirements, Guimond said, a prime example being operations or training where a gas or oxygen mask must be worn. A beard prevents the gas mask from maintaining a proper seal to protect the wearer.
Policies on facial hair vary in militaries around the world, but Guimond pointed out that most of the militaries in Europe allow it. Many countries eased restrictions for personnel serving in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where both special forces and, in some cases, regular unit members were sporting beards in an attempt to blend in or be more accepted by the local population.
Though he helped develop the new policy, Guimond said he will not be joining the ranks of the bearded. “Even on the weekends I shave,” he said.
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