Marine Corps: It's Up to Unit Commanders to Relax Grooming Rules, Cut Training

A Marine gets his hair cut in the barber shop aboard the USS Kearsarge, Jan. 21, 2019.
A Marine gets his hair cut in the barber shop aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, Jan. 21, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Antonio Garcia)

The Marine Corps isn't issuing force-wide rules on new grooming standards or training requirements amid the novel coronavirus crisis, the service's top general said this week.

"We very much trust the leaders to make those calls, and we've given them the latitude to waive the requirements where it's not practical to meet them," Commandant Gen. David Berger told reporters from the Pentagon on Thursday.

The Marine Corps, as of Thursday morning, had 31 COVID-19 cases in its ranks. The illness, caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus, has disrupted life worldwide, forcing most people to hunker down at home until the worst of the threat passes.

But as other services also cut promotion boards, fitness tests and other events that put troops in close contact with one another, some have complained that the Marine Corps hasn't done enough to prevent the spread of the disease.

Related: Navy Boot Camp Trainers Must Spend 90 Days Away from Families in Lockdown Measure

Memes have popped up online showing first sergeants ordering Marines to hit the barber shop during the global pandemic. After the Navy postponed fitness tests, one person mused that Marines would soon be required to meet their tough fitness standards in hazmat suits.

Berger said units are curbing training that is "nice to do, good to do, but not absolutely necessary for their mission."

That includes some exercises with allies and big desert and mountain-warfare training events in California, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said.

Marine Corps Recruiting Command also announced this week that recruiters would no longer interact with members of the public to do their job. They're turning to phone calls and online interactions to help prevent coronavirus exposure.

But for many Marine commands, a lot has remained the same amid the threat. Barber shops remain open for business on base, and fitness tests are still on the calendar.

Berger said the Marine Corps has a responsibility to maintain its readiness levels.

"This is your force in readiness that has to be ready to respond to problems around the world," he said. "We've never been given advance notice when this will happen, so we have to be ready all the time."

Marines are finding new ways to train and carry out their missions, the commandant added, whether it means spreading out on a pistol range or holding promotion boards via video teleconference.

In a white letter issued to commanders earlier this month, the commandant told leaders they must closely scrutinize what travel is mission-essential and what gatherings need to be curtailed, and take all measures necessary to protect Marines, sailors and families.

"I expect commanders and leaders at all levels to act with the preservation of their force at the forefront of their decision-making, while applying the fullest risk mitigation in continuing the mission," Berger wrote.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: The Pentagon Says Troops Are Social Distancing. Why Do These Photos Say Otherwise?

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