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.”
“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.