Uniform inspections and stricter shaving rules coming in renewed Air Force focus on ‘standards’

Close to 70,000 Airmen can expect a surge in ‘back to basics’ uniform inspections and a full court press on shaving rules in the next month according to a memo and orders issued by the commander of the Air Force’s largest command. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, who took over as the commander of Air Combat Command in February, issued orders Monday that every unit under his command — about 20% of all active duty Air Force members — will refocus on “standards of conduct, dress and appearance, physical fitness, and the observance of customs and courtesies.”

That will mean open ranks uniform inspections at every unit in the ACC, a review of shaving waivers issued on either medical or religious grounds, and mandatory shaving classes for any airmen seeking a waiver.   

“While the vast majority of Airmen maintain professional standards, I am concerned by a discernable decline in the commitment to, and enforcement of, military standards,” Wilsbach wrote in a memo labeled ‘for distribution.’ “This will change.”

In a longer memo of specific orders dated June 17, Wilsbach laid out three central areas of concern: “Adherence to standards,” “Unit inspections,” and “Shaving waivers.”

Shaving waivers — both for medical and as a religious accommodation — have leaped in the Air Force in recent years. According to data first published by Military.com, waivers for medical reasons have doubled across the Air Force since 2021.

Leaders have noticed and not all have been happy about it.

In a widely seen Facebook video chat in March 2023, then-Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Ramón Colón-López, a career Air Force pararescueman, unloaded on beards in the force

“If you want to look cute with your skinny jeans and your beard, by all means, do it someplace else,” Colón-López said in response to a question submitted by an online audience. “But quit wasting our time on something that doesn’t have anything to do with kicking the enemy’s ass.”

His comments drew smiles from the Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force and Space Force on stage with him, but no disagreements.

“In some ways this is a very silly thing to be worried about,” said then-CMSSF Roger Towberman in the same chat. “We’re not here to be fashionable.”

A “communication plan” that lays out specific orders behind the push was posted on the popular Air Force amn/nco/sno Facebook page. An ACC spokesperson confirmed to Task & Purpose on Wednesday that the document was authentic.

The memo instructs leaders across the ACC to hold open ranks inspections for their units by July 17.

“Over the next month, commanders are expected to conduct a multi-layered unit inspection of all assigned military members,” an ACC press release on the orders said. Along with open ranks uniform inspections, the review will include “records inspections, in which commanders must review all military members’ personnel records to ensure medical exemptions and religious accommodations are current and valid.”

The definition of “current and valid” is not addressed in either memo, though the communication plan indicates that Wilsbach may anticipate commanders revoking or otherwise questioning religious accommodation requests, known as RARs.

RARs can cover shaving and beards as well as certain exemptions from some uniform and hair rules. RARs are also the primary route military members have used to request exemptions from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. RARs are issued by commanders after a review of a member’s personal religious beliefs and commitment by a chaplain.

“Although approved RARs last for the duration of an Airman’s military career, DAF policy allows commanders to reassess whether circumstances have changed that necessitate a re-evaluation, such as permanent change of station, deployment, new duties, etc.,” the memo said.

Task & Purpose emailed questions to ACC officials asking for clarification how a unit commander might review the “validity” of a previously approved RAR, and how a “change of station, deployment, new duties” or other workplace factors might affect religious status, but did not receive a response.

The latest on Task & Purpose

Coast Guard fires commander of its biggest station

Matt White Avatar

Matt White

Senior Editor

Matt White is a senior editor at Task & Purpose. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.