The US military’s top enlisted adviser, Air Force Chief Master Sargent. Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez has voiced his opposition to beards in uniform, even with religious waivers for facial hair, stating that they have nothing to do with being lethal and can hurt unit identity.
Colon-Lopez gave his remarks during a Facebook livestream alongside Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Joanne Bass and Space Force Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman at the Air and Space Force Association’s Warfare Symposium on Wednesday morning.
He also expressed his disapproval of the religion exemption for beards, stating that there should be an “expectation of people to put their personality aside for the betterment of the team.”
Beards don’t belong in the military, senior enlisted adviser says at Air Force symposiumhttps://t.co/gFdnhQFX4s
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) March 10, 2023
“We need to maintain our discipline and professionalism, and that includes our appearance,” Colon-Lopez said. “Our uniformity in appearance is a reflection of our commitment to our mission and our dedication to our country.”
Colon-Lopez’s comments come at a time when the Department of the Air Force has amended several quality-of-life policies, including those for beards, amid a recruiting crisis and a recognition that some existing rules harm those of various religious beliefs, as well as certain minorities.
Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Joanne Bass echoed Colon-Lopez’s sentiments, stating that the military must prioritize the mission and maintain its standards of discipline and professionalism.
Space Force Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman also emphasized the importance of maintaining discipline and professionalism, stating that the military must adhere to established standards to ensure its effectiveness.
“We must maintain our standards of discipline and professionalism to ensure that we are effective in our roles as members of the military,” Towberman said. “Our appearance is a reflection of our commitment to our mission and our dedication to our country.”
The statements come at a time when the military is struggling with a recruiting slump and expects to miss its enlistment targets. The head of Air Force recruiting, Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas believes that the service needs to do a better job of connecting with Generation Z.
Grooming standards requiring a clean shave also disproportionately affect minority service members as some recruits (mainly Afro American) get frequent ingrown hairs and skin irritations known as pseudo folliculitis barbae, or PFB.
A survey conducted for a 2021 study for the journal Military Medicine showed that, of those who had received shaving waivers, 21.4% said it had a negative impact on their careers. In all, 63% of those who said it harmed their careers or created negative bias within their unit were black.
Bass and Towberman both acknowledged the medical and religious exemptions as being important, and Towberman emphasized that people shouldn’t be discriminated against if there’s a clear reason why they cannot shave.