Saturday, April 9, 2005

Army beards

This is the first I'd heard that beards were an issue in Afghanistan. Read the whole column; it's quite interesting. Here's the lead-in:

One of the interesting quirks of Muslim culture generally, and Afghan culture specifically, and Pashtun culture even more specifically, is the emphasis on facial hair. A beard is a sign of manhood, and to be clean-shaven is considered effeminate, unmanly, and is more or less tantamount to an open admission of homosexuality (and not the older man-teenage boy kind, which is tacitly tolerated among the Pashtuns.) The Hazara, an ethnic group in Afghanistan who are descendants of the Mongols who came there with Genghis Khan, had a terrible time under the Taliban partly because many of them couldn't grow beards. They were, by the way, excellent, fiercely loyal soldiers who didn't mind playing a little catch-up now that they were on the side that was on top.

All US soldiers are expected to be clean-shaven, according to AR 670-1, the army regulation covering uniforms and appearance. That created a bit of a problem, since working with the Pashtuns while clean-shaven was a lot like being an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a biker gang while wearing a pink tutu and a lacy top. The powers that be had therefore, reluctantly, grudgingly, and sorrowfully, authorized SF teams working with the Afghans to grow beards. Of course, it being the Army and all, no way was there going to be a clean implementation of a policy that radical. AR 670-1 is the regulation most beloved of a certain kind of Sergeant Major and those who aspire to be a certain kind of Sergeant Major, and for them, allowing SF operators to grow beards was the biggest blow to their perception of what the Army should be since Clinton instituted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Also, while the senior leadership of the special operations task force endorsed the policy, they were ambivalent about the results, as were many of their subordinates.

No comments:

Post a Comment