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Soldiers: Army hairstyle regs ‘discriminate against women’

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Women in the military have defended our country at home and abroad for decades. But some women soldiers are speaking out about what they call the Army's restrictive hairstyle guidelines.

In 2010, 31 percent of African-American women made up the US Army. But some of those soldiers are now sounding off over a requirement they say is unfair and unjust.

"I think it's very discriminating against women," one soldier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity told CBS 6 reporter Sandra Jones. "I'm not comfortable with it at all."

It's not the Army uniform, but what’s underneath the head gear.

"I just feel like if my hair style is professional, and it does not conflict with my job, I should be able to wear it," the soldier said.

The update to Army regulation 670-1 bans several popular hairstyles worn by women of color. For example, twists and dreadlocks not allowed. Multiple braids and cornrows bigger than a quarter of an inch are also banned. And the size of a hair bun can’t be larger than two inches.

"I see men with... nice neat hairstyles who are slobs as soldiers," the woman said. "I have natural hair. I don't have any type of chemicals in my hair.  And with my natural hair, trying to comply to these rules and regulations makes it very difficult."

The solider said those hairstyles are more difficult because natural hair costs more to maintain.

A Stylist's Perspective 

It's a hair battle that stylist Tahnesha Ervin, who works at  Envogue Salon II, sees with her military clientele.

“They'll leave my chair -- we'll figure out something to do with them.  But... once they go home and they have to shampoo their hair like every other day.  So, then she has to figure out something to look presentable and within the guidelines at the same time,” Ervin said.

The controversial policy has also become the subject of a White House petition.

"If you don't stand up and say anything, you can't change what you think is injustice," said an unidentified soldier.  "So yes, I had to put my name on that petition to make sure that my voice is heard,”

CBS 6 spoke with another anonymous soldier who is putting her job on the line too.

"You're going to lose a lot of experience that's going to greatly impact if we have another war campaign coming up,” said the unidentified soldier.

That soldier feels the regulations were created to force black female soldiers out.

"I've seen females that have their hair, their braids, their hair color -- whatever out of regulation.  But you address those soldiers individually,” said the soldier.

Soldiers caught violating the policy face anything from extra duty, to an informal reprimand, to a reduction in rank and pay.

"It sends the wrong message and it will tear morale down," the soldier said.

Fort Lee Responds to Criticism 

Fort Lee, the third largest Army training installation in the country, is located in Central Virginia.

"When you sign up to be a service member, you sign up for a cause greater than yourself," said Command Sergeant Major Terry Parham, who is one of the top non-commissioned officers at the post.

"The Army has a standard of how we should be all the time -- 24/7," Parham said. “When soldiers come here that's their mission, to get training and send them out to their units.  So these soldiers are here to receive.  They're not in the policy business.  They're concerned about the different changes that they make.  All they need to know is which way do they need to go.”

When Parham was asked why those changes were being made now, he said the policy shift was part of an extensive process that involved research and surveys.

"Commands are asked and then  it comes out at a certain time,” Parham said.

But Parham refuted some soldiers' claims that the new policy was intended to reduce manpower.

"No, it's not because if you comply, you get to stay on the team.  And that's anywhere.  That's not just the military,” Parham said. "We give you training.  We give you education.  We tell you the pros and the cons."

But some of the soldiers speaking out are questioning who's looking out for them.

"Who are we fighting here?  We're here.  We're on your team," one soldier said.

Department of Defense Reviewing Policy

The Department of Defense is currently reviewing the US Army’s grooming policy.

Secretary Chuck Hagel responded to concerns raised by female members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Hagel told the group the Army’s intent was not to offend or discriminate against women of color.


  • mbaker9105

    Another example of me-me-me. Many (not all) women want full equality unless it also happens to include something they don’t want to do. And I’m not so sure it’s not more a generation thing than a gender thing. I know this much: in my 20 years in, I started in a Division that was basically closed to women. I think we had maybe 10 out of 16,000 mostly at Division HQ. And later served in mixed units as the policy evolved. There are dirtbags of both genders. People are people, most fully capable of doing the job, but the distractions and hassle were quite disturbing. Separate field tents, separate restrooms, preferences given and marriages broken up because of affairs, people caught doing things everywhere you can imagine. The distractions and resentment this causes because some people can’t control themselves is difficult to explain. And this hair thing is yet another example of different standards. There should be one standard, male and female, neatly groomed, CLEAN when possible, and an acceptable length than can be determined. I’ve seen some females wear Berets that literally sit 3-4 inches above their head, just sitting on the hair. All this complaining leads to is more and more regulation.

  • woman

    Why deliberately join the Army knowing full well and out right that it has strict rules, regulations, standards, codes and then complain about them? Why would a woman deliberately seek out the Army and want, expect, and whine for special privileges when she knows she is expected to conform to the Army, as a uniformed, disciplined, member
    of a team, expected to perform as all other team members. Geeze. Whiny Women need not apply. Leave and
    don’t embarrass other women willing to serve uniformly. Go grow hair.

  • Bobby R.

    I am reminded of what my ole ettered pappy told me when I was helping him with the hay harvest and would bombard him with inane questions, he would say, “boy, don’t worry ’bout the mule going blind just load the wagon”. Good advice to those female personnel who want special treatment not afforded to all, just them. President Harry Truman summed it up, “if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen

  • R Moffett

    Regulations and requirements are clearly communicated to potential recruits. This is another example of people of both genders expecting preferential treatment in situations in which the expectations, requirements, and regulations were well known before they enlisted. Unlike days when members were conscripted into the military, today’s military members are volunteers and they enlisted with the knowledge of expectations and, had they found the requirements personally objectionable, they could and should have not enlisted.
    Those who are unwilling to abide by the rules, regulations, requirements they knew before deciding to enlist are an embarrassment to the thousands of military members who daily sacrifice to protect our freedoms and uphold the obligations they assumed when they swore the oath of enlistment.

  • Clayton Bigsby

    These regulations are for combat safety reasons. Do you really want someone slinging you around by your hair in 1 on 1 combat? Better yet having to pull it back to see through your scope before shooting someone who’s aiming at you. War is hell…. Not a beauty pageant.

    • E Marshall Buckles

      Yeah, I agree. The idea of short hair, in the military, is so that if you get into hand to hand combat, your opponent cannot get hold of it and overcome you and also, in conditions when regular bathing is not available, to cut down on lice and make it very easy to maintain as well as to make everybody more or less the same. That is why the clothing is called “a UNIFORM”. Seems to me that the women ought to have their heads shaved, with extremely short hair, like the men.

  • googleit

    I dont think they are asking for special treatment. They are simply just trying to make everyone understand that a white woman and a black woman cannot wear the same hairstyles because the hair is totally different. Where a white woman can pull her hair back into a flat strait bun wash it the next day and put it right back in that same bun, most women of color simply cannot just do that. Black hair for the most part is thick and kinky while sweating or even in heat it shrinks and is very hard unless its really long to get into a single 2 inch bun. Twist and cornrows are what they call protective styles they can be pulled back into buns and very neatly done and flat enough that a beret will sit flat. Now i believe the color should match your original hair color because that is professional. Like Clayton said its not a beauty pageant so any of the other colors are unnecessary! just my opinion

    • E Marshall Buckles

      Um, yeah, they ARE asking for special treatment. When they are in the military, ALL women and men, no matter what their race, should have short, easy to maintain hair at all times no matter what their duties or place where they are serving. Give ’em all extremely short, “high and tight” haircuts. If their military units get into some sort of armed conflicts with an enemy or are serving in some sort of disaster, they are not going to have time, or the resources, to maintain various hairstyles.

      • googleit

        well yea if you plan on cutting it all to the short same length…easy solution problem solved! i agree with that…
        But if not that was my point….race actually does matter because for a woman of color cornrows and and twist last for months on end sometimes up to 6 months and require no maintenance at all. Where as a white woman they would last all of a day…and a white woman could whip up a bun in two seconds where a black woman it would take hours with gel, grease and all kinda other stuff every day to keep it flat and presentable! The hair is just simply different… its just the facts of life two different races have two different hair styles…and with the new regulations they are actually going against the simple and hairstyles that are easier to maintain for a woman of color….

      • Brit Farla

        You’re not understanding . They’re not asking for special treatment. Some of these women have been in the Army for years, where when they did sign the contract the regulation was different and something they were able to abide by. Black and white women hair are completely different. The can’t expect one standard to apply to all of them.

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