Esper Bans Use of Promotion Board Photos, Orders Review of Hair and Grooming Standards

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks during a briefing at U.S. Southern Command headquarters,
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks during a briefing at U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Florida. (Michael C. Dougherty/U.S. Southern Command)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper put out a military-wide directive Wednesday barring the use of photos in promotion boards and ordering the development of new hair and grooming standards devoid of racial bias.

In a memorandum to the service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Esper outlined a series of steps aimed at eliminating "discrimination, prejudice and bias in all ranks" to promote equal opportunity, morale and the readiness of the force.

Read next: An Airman Died After His Chute Opened While He Was Still in the Plane, Says New Report

The steps include "prohibiting the use of photographs for promotion boards and selection processes pertaining to assignment, training, education and command."

The Army had already moved to stop using photos in promotion boards, and the Navy planned to review the practice.

Esper also ordered all the services to "review hairstyle and grooming policies for racial bias" and "make appropriate policy modifications" no later than Sept. 15.

In addition, the memo calls for an update to equal opportunity policy "to prohibit pregnancy-based discrimination."

"We must root out prejudice and bias that may exist but isn't always transparent" throughout the military, Esper said. The measures are based on recommendations from the service branches.

The memo did not address two of the hot-button issues now facing the military following the May 25 killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd in police custody -- the display of Confederate flags and the renaming of military bases now honoring Confederate leaders.

The Marine Corps, U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. Forces Japan have already acted separately to ban the display of Confederate flags. The Army and the Defense Department currently have the renaming of bases under review.

In a series of Twitter posts, Esper said that all commands should work to eliminate "unconscious bias" among service members through frank and open discussions.

Prejudice and bias in the ranks are not always transparent, he said in urging commands to increase the frequency of workplace and equal opportunity surveys to identify areas for improvement.

He called on commands to give him monthly updates through the end of this year to gauge the effectiveness of the policy changes.

"The actions I am directing are a necessary first step, but hard work remains and we will continue to learn as we move forward," Esper said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

Related: 'Sailors Using the N-Word': Navy Leaders Hear Painful Cases of Racism

Story Continues