Defense Secretary to Marines: Rethink Haircut Rules During Pandemic

Rct. Jorge Rodas, Platoon 1021, Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, receives a high-and-tight haircut.
Rct. Jorge Rodas, Platoon 1021, Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, receives a high-and-tight haircut March 25, 2014, on Parris Island, S.C. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Octavia Davis)

Whether Marines should still be sporting high-and-tights during a global pandemic is now a topic of discussion at the Pentagon's highest ranks.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley is expected to call Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger over a Twitter video that has been viewed more than 70,000 times that shows leathernecks lined up outside a barber shop.

The video, posted by Task & Purpose deputy editor Jared Keller, shows lines of Marines waiting for haircuts last week at a barbershop at Camp Pendleton in California. No one is wearing masks and the Marines in line appear to be standing closer than 6 feet apart from one another, the recommended distance to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

"The commandant, if he's watching, is probably already on it," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday. "But if he's not the chairman is going to give him a call and say, 'What is going on? What don't you guys understand? If you need to, suspend haircuts for whatever period of time.'"

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

Berger's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Marine Corps took heat on social media this week over a video produced by public affairs at Camp Pendleton about steps barber shops are taking to protect Marines. In it, they said the shops remain open because they provide "essential services."

Most states that have shut down unessential businesses don't agree with that label, and barbershops and salons have been closed.

Several of the military branches have relaxed grooming standards during the coronavirus pandemic to cut down on the trips troops make to barbershops and salons. Berger declined to enact a top-down approach, instead giving unit commanders the authority to alter standards depending on their missions.

"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," the commandant said last month.

Milley deferred to the Marine Corps when asked if haircuts are considered "mission essential" during a pandemic. But the military relies on discipline, he said, which includes hair standards.

"Yes, I think Marines should get haircuts, from a personal standpoint," Milley said. "As the son of a Navy corpsman who hit the beach at Iwo Jima with the 4th Marine Division, it took extraordinary discipline to conquer that island with 7,000 Marines killed in 19 or 20 days and put a flag on [Mount] Suribachi.

"That Marine victory was a result of incredible discipline of America's 911 force and expeditionary force," the chairman added. "It may seem superficial to some, but getting a haircut is a part of that discipline."

Milley said there are "a lot of ways to do haircuts." The chairman said he's cutting his own hair using a do-it-yourself barber kit.

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

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