Within two days of the Army's rollout of new hair and grooming standards primarily for female soldiers, a petition calling for the service to allow male soldiers to grow beards has gotten more than 55,000 signatures.
"With all of the progressive change in the US Army's policy on uniform wear and appearance it is only right soldiers should be able to grow beards in a garrison environment," according to a petition on Change.org.
The issue came up Tuesday during an Army Facebook Live event to explain the new hair and grooming standards, which allow female soldiers to wear ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings with the Army Combat Uniform.
The beard petition argues that it's time for the Army to loosen its restriction on facial hair for male soldiers.
"If earrings, ponytails, and nail polish do not take away from the image of professionalism then a beard should not either," it states. "The British Royal Air Force and the Canadian armed forces allow facial hair; the Dutch and Swedish militaries permit them in many circumstances. It is time to make the change! Let's see how many signatures we can get on board to let them hear our necessities."
During the Facebook Live event, soldiers asked Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston whether the Army would consider giving them the choice to wear a beard.
"No, we are not looking at it," he answered. "We have not reviewed it, and it is not on the docket. So right now, you will not have a beard."
A comment from a user calling themselves "Michael Grinston," from Indianapolis, stated, "If this petition garnishes 30,000 signatures we will revisit the issue."
Grinston's spokesman, Sgt. 1st Class William Reinier, told Military.com that the comment was from a fake account, not Grinston himself.
The petition is open to anyone to sign, and some commenters appear to be military members.
"As an officer, I believe the option for a beard should be allowed," Ryan Belanger wrote. "These new policies are designed to make women feel feminine; let's have some equality and make men masculine again."
Commenter "Beardy McBeardface" said that a leader who allows soldiers to wear beards will "go down in history as taking a large step in increasing morale, during a time that morale is in short supply."
"If a beard can be grown for religious purposes, there's no viable reason to restrict anyone from growing a beard. Write a standard that requires it to look good and let our Army match that of every other western/modern army," he added.
Some of the new grooming standards are gender-neutral and allow men and women to highlight their hair as long it presents a uniform blend of colors with a natural appearance.
Another change is allowing male soldiers to wear clear nail polish.
"The masses ask for beards, and we get clear nail polish and highlights?! The disrespect is strong with this situation," Dexter Jefferson wrote, adding that he is currently on a shaving profile.
"Me being a male with a shaving profile I think we definitely need this," he said. "The hassling I constantly receive just for having curly hair which causes painful hair bumps is ridiculous."
Grinston pointed out that soldiers can be granted an exception-to-policy allowing them to wear a beard for medical reasons or if their religious preference requires them to wear one.
"There is already an exception to policy for those that have issues with shaving, and you can have a beard on religious accommodations," Grinston said during the Facebook Live event.
He stressed that it is important for leaders to grant exceptions when needed. If a soldier has a valid reason for an "exception to policy to have a beard, there should be no leader out there telling a soldier to shave," Grinston said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.