News Branch Navy

These are the dumbest rules in the US military

There are a lot of them.
Kyle Gunn Avatar
A U.S. Army Soldiers ground guides a military vehicle to a training exercise, National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, CA., Jan. 10, 2017. The National Training Center conducts tough, realistic, Unified Land Operations with our United Action Partners to prepare Brigade Combat Teams and other units for combat while taking care of Soldiers, Civilians, and Family members. (U.S. Army Spc. Tracy McKithern/Released)

Every job has dumb rules, no matter the field. While the military doesn’t have a monapoly on regulations, it takes them to an extreme: There are rules on how to walk, how to talk, how to dress — down to how to tie your boots, wear a belt, and whether or not flip-flops are permissible attire for any occasion other than a trip to the public showers. There are so many rules that it’s simply a matter of when rather than if there will be some dumb ones.

Last week we asked you, our readers, what the dumbest rules and regulations in the military were. Across our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts, and in the comment section on the story, we received hundreds of responses, many of which were exceptional, and not only made me laugh but reminded me of how truly bizarre the military can be at times. 

Here are some of those answers. Just keep in mind that I can’t possibly get to them all, and each branch has its own (very) dumb rules. 

Let’s start with the most common answers from readers. These will not surprise anybody with experience in the U.S. military; however, they may surprise our civilian readers who will expect an explanation. Unfortunately, none can be provided because none exists. They are simply dumb rules, and they exist just because. 

They are:

  • No hands in pockets 
  • No walking on the grass
  • Can’t talk on a phone and walk
  • Wearing reflective belts during the day (even indoors)
  • No eating or drinking while walking in uniform
  • Boot socks can only be a certain color
  • White socks without logos for PT
  • Can’t carry umbrellas

These rules often appear to be made up completely on the fly, usually by sergeants major, and with absolutely no explanation. In Afghanistan, our company first sergeant would fly off the handle if a Marine was wearing a beanie when the sun was out. You’ll regularly see troops wearing reflective belts inside buildings where there is no danger a motor vehicle will run them over. Many veterans, even years after picking up their DD-214, still hesitate to walk on the grass lest a crusty E-9 jump out from behind a tree and light them up.

A command sergeant major wears a reflective belt inside.
Command Sgt. Maj. Kenton Franklin, 115th Fires Brigade command sergeant major, presents Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyo. a state flag that was flown on Veterans Day and a reflective belt at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Nov. 11. He visited the base with other governors during a trip sponsored by the Secretary of Defense to Kuwait and Iraq to see firsthand the conditions that the service members operate.

Grooming standards, specifically: Haircuts

Next, we need to discuss haircuts and styles. While the rules are different for each branch, there is plenty of “dumb” to go around. The Marine Corps expects you to show up every Monday morning with a fresh haircut even though it doesn’t say anything about “weekly” trips to the barbershop anywhere in the order. Not surprisingly, most branches relaxed grooming standards during the COVID pandemic, with the exception of the Marine Corps, which ended up getting the attention of members of Congress (though nothing came of it.). It is a miracle we even won World War II without everyone having a high and tight, but we did.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force have pretty vague language regarding hair regulations, but all that does is give leadership room to interpret them as they see fit which means make them more strict than the orders intend. This typically leads to troops really having no clue what is right or wrong and spending a lot of time trying to figure it out.  

One of the biggest arguments in favor of stringent rules about haircuts is that they instill discipline, or are somehow a metric by which discipline can be gauged. In any case, it doesn’t make any sense. Listen, if you can’t get discipline out of your troops because they don’t have a fresh haircut, you’re the problem, not them.

Males aren’t the only ones subject to dumb hair rules; females have just as many, if not more stupid rules to comply with. Buns and bobs, bangs and braids, there are so many rules that I won’t even attempt to decipher them all. At least they’re being updated, except for the Marine Corps of course. 

A female soldiers wear a ponytail with helmet and gas mask.
U.S. Army Capt. Irene Mallet, a UH-60 pilot and company commander, assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Wings of Victory, dons her protective mask during a simulated chemical attack on the headquarters during exercise Swift Response, part of DEFENDER_Europe 21, at Bezmer Airfield, Bulgaria on May 10, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Robert Fellingham)

Beards. We gotta talk about beards.

Then there’s the issue of shaving and beards. There are some exceptions for religious or medical reasons, or if you’re a super-high-speed special hat type, but by and large, beards are a no-go. Why? Because of gas-mask seal? There’s an easy solution to that: if you’re downrange or on a ship, then you shave. Just write the order to limit length with some other verbiage to ensure a neat appearance and this wouldn’t be a big deal. Whoever is writing the order should also throw in there that if you grow patchy hair, you’re not allowed, and neither are goatees…we have to at least have some self-respect. 

There is also precedence to allow beards. There are several foreign militaries that allow beards like the British Royal Air Force, Candian Armed Forces, Germans, Norwegians (who can also have ponytails, even if they’re male), and plenty of others. So why not the United States? Beards were allowed in the Navy until 1985 and sailors were even sporting them during World War II while they were hunting Nazi U-Boats and destroying the Japanese fleet. Is our current military disciple and professionalism so fragile that beards would see their undoing? I’m willing to believe that isn’t the case.

Some reader submissions were so good we have to share them:

You’re charged leave (vacation) days even for weekends or days you’d have off anyway. This doesn’t happen in the “real world” because it doesn’t make any sense.

Forcing students at the military academies to attend football games is just so stupid. Don’t even try to defend it with a shallow “esprit de corps” argument. It isn’t even good football unless you’re a huge fan of the triple option (which, spoiler, is almost always a run).

Nothing like walking in front of a truck in the middle of nowhere so it doesn’t hit anything except for you.

Imagine being this petty and having literally nothing better to do. 

Adapt, improvise, overcome.

This happens…a lot.

Never thought of this but they’re right. You’ll get yelled at for chewing gum and walking but you’re fine if you have a huge lip stuffed with tobacco.

My personal favorite of the reader submissions. Field day is the Marine Corps activity for making things excessively clean, which is incredibly stupid especially since Marines still live in complete shitholes. You’d have Friday morning PT followed by a room inspection and you had to be showered and dressed but if the shower had a drop of water in it you usually failed. 

There are some ‘dumb’ rules worth defending. Several readers who shall remain anonymous said that not being able to fraternize with officers was a dumb rule and I disagree. It boils down to this: why you would want to hang out with officers anyway, even if you are one? I understand why officers would want to be around enlisted because we are just more fun, but why would anybody want to be around people that just want to discuss OODA loop and talk about how much fun college was? This is one of the few rules meant to protect the enlisted, so take advantage of it and tell officers they can’t hang out with you because it’s illegal.

Why do bad rules persist? The simple explanation is that it is near impossible to change rules and regulations in the military. Hell, it took an executive order from President Joe Biden to make sexual harassment a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that is pretty obvious. 

The complex explanation behind the persistence of dumb rules is that most leaders are only in a spot for three years, so they prioritize big picture issues over seemingly small ones like uniform rules or facial hair regulations. 

A slightly longer explanation is that dumb rules have existed since the dawn of the professional military and will persist until the universe collapses in on itself. You can bet that troops will be complaining about them until they’re on the event horizon of the black hole that will swallow up all of existence, and with it, the grass they just got yelled at for walking on.

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