Marine Corps leaders can’t admit that haircuts are not mission-essential during a COVID-19 pandemic - Task & Purpose

Marine Corps leaders can’t admit that haircuts are not mission-essential during a COVID-19 pandemic

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Somewhere, a general is having a nightmare about Marines going to battle with flowing hair that is so long the poor Devil Dogs cannot fit their Kevlar helmets on their noggins, so they get mowed down by the merciless Chinese/Russian/ISIS hypersonic snipers!

Thankfully, the Marine Corps’ senior leadership will never allow such a scenario to come to pass, even as a biblical plague continues to engulf the planet.

Rather than relaxing grooming standards during the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has allowed his commanders to decide whether or not Marines should still be required to have their hair in regs.

The reality is Beger's lack of guidance on whether Marines can be exempt from required haircuts has created a leadership vacuum and commanders are too timid to take the initiative.

“If they see the commandant not making a decision they’re not going to make that decision,” one Marine official told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity. “No commander wants to be the first to say no haircuts.”

As a recent video showing Marines lining up outside a barber shop in Camp Pendleton, California, has shown, commanders are demonstrating a distinct bias for inaction in the face of the reality that Marines are risking their lives to keep their hair high and tight. (In fairness, social distancing precautions have since been implemented at Camp Pendleton.)

To most folks who are not familiar with the military, it would seem like a no-brainer to let Marines slide for having long hair during the COVID crisis. Your friend and humble narrator’s local barber shop has been closed for nearly two months to avoid spreading the disease. While this reporter looks more and more like Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski” with each passing day, yours truly is also COVID-free.

But the Marines Corps is a stubborn tribe. To the Corps’ leaders, suspending haircuts for all Marines to keep them healthy could lead to a cascade of calamities. Next, Marines will be allowed to put their hands in their pockets. Then, they will don white socks.

Before you know it, Marines will be walking on the grass. Chesty Puller will watch the chaos from his perch on high and weep for his once glorious Marine Corps. Satan’s victory will be complete.

If we could just come back to reality for a second, though, let us remember that cropped hair does not ensure victory. Although Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said that military haircuts are part of the discipline that allowed the Marines to prevail on Iwo Jima in 1945, it’s a sure bet that those Marines had pretty long and shaggy hair by the end of that battle.

In fact, short hair is a relatively recent advent in the history of warfare, said retired Navy Cmdr. Doyle Hodges, executive editor of Texas National Security Review

“If you read about the Spartans at Thermopylae, part of their preparation for battle was oiling and braiding their hair,” Hodges told Task & Purpose. “They seem to have a good reputation as warriors.”

The difference between then and now is King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan warriors only had to deal with 1 million Persians. The Marine Corps has to be ready to go cheek-to-jowl with more than 1 billion Chinese soldiers at all times.

That’s why all Marines have to remain at a high level of readiness, with their sphincters firmly clenched, ready to fling themselves into battle against the People’s Liberation Army in the greatest contest of wills since your friend and humble narrator attempted to give up donuts. (It has not been going well.)

It’s not exactly clear how having short hair will help Marines successfully assault Beijing, but no one ever accused the Corps of using logic, especially when it comes to practical matters.

For the time being, it appears the Marine Corps is not going to budge on the haircut issue.

Your friend and humble narrator will continue to press Corps leadership on this issue; but quite frankly, they would rather get a Brazilian wax than admit this is the wrong hill to die on.

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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for nearly 15 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at schogol@taskandpurpose.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.