The Navy's Diversity Task Force Didn't Recommend Allowing Beards. Here's Why

Marine Camp Pendleton shaves face
Corporal Carl Provost, automotive mechanic, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shaves Lance Cpl. Lukasz Wlodkowski, automotive maintenance technician, Combat Logistics Battalion 5, at his home aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. June 8, 2014. (Anna Albrecht/U.S. Marine Corps)

Sailors hoping for permanent no-shave waivers to make a comeback in the Navy aren't likely to see the policy change anytime soon.

Task Force One Navy, a group created over the summer to review potentially discriminatory policies, released its report Wednesday, detailing the 56 recommendations it made to the chief of naval operations. While the task force did say grooming policies need to be reviewed for racial bias, it stopped short of calling for a reversal to the 2019 decision that did away with long-standing no-shave chits, or waivers that allowed Navy personnel to grow quarter-inch facial hair.

At listening sessions held to gather info about possible barriers to service, sailors told the group that they wanted to see the policy change, said Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, who led Task Force One Navy's efforts.

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Ultimately, Holsey said, the task force opted against making changes because the latest policy doing away with the permanent waivers is still so new. The group will continue accepting comments and feedback on the issue, he added.

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell said the Navy realizes skin ailments that make shaving daily painful predominantly affect Black men in the ranks. Ultimately though, it comes down to readiness and safety, he said.

"The Navy has been looking at great power competition, warfighting readiness [and] firefighting -- think about the Bonhomme Richard and the requirement that really every sailor is a firefighter," Nowell said, referencing last summer's devastating ship fire in San Diego. "... For firefighting equipment, your self-contained breathing apparatus, as well as for gas masks, you can't have any stubble."

No one has been kicked out of the Navy over the new policy, Nowell said.

"But what we've said is that we're not just going to say you can have a no-shave chit for the duration of your career, because that is a danger to you and to your shipmates," he added.

The task force did find that some of the terms used in the Navy's grooming policy standards can result in racial bias, which led to recommended changes. A commanding officer, for example, might interpret the current language about hair color to mean that a Black woman can't have blonde hair, Nowell said.

"It was too subjective," he said, adding that they're going to "tighten that language up."

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said during an October event hosted by Defense One that he would try to keep an open mind about beards.

"If people are complaining about it, I'm not going to play deaf ears and think that I have all of the answers in my beautiful office in the Pentagon," he said.

At least one sailor has lobbied to get a long-standing beard waiver since the 2019 policy change. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leo Katsareas got the OK last year to wear a four-inch beard for religious reasons, at least in his current assignment.

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

Related: Sailor Gets OK to Grow 4-Inch Beard, Pushes Navy to Grant Career-Length Waiver

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