Air Force Gives Commanders the OK to Relax Grooming Standards

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Senior Airman Roberto Espada-Gali cuts hair for members of the 156th Airlift Wing.
Senior Airman Roberto Espada-Gali cuts hair for members of the 156th Airlift Wing at Muniz Air National Guard base, Puerto Rico Sept. 29, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/SMSgt Shane A. Cuomo)

The U.S. Air Force is giving commanders latitude to make the call on service members' grooming standards during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter posted on the popular but unofficial Air Force page Amn/Nco/Snco on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said local commanders will decide whether airmen can deviate from hair grooming standards "as needed to ensure the health and safety of our service members and families."

"Deviation should be done within reason and should in no way inhibit our ability to perform our duties, wear proper uniforms and headgear professionally, or prevent the use of protective or safety equipment," Kelly said. "Shaving and other standards associated with dress and appearance remain in place."

A service spokeswoman confirmed the letter's authenticity, adding it would be posted to the Air Force Personnel Center's "myPers" website later Tuesday.

Related: Air Force Suspends Physical Fitness Tests Through End of May

Social distancing guidelines have limited access to barbershops and hair salons.

Social distancing practices also apply to gyms. Commanders therefore have the authority to evaluate fitness standards for some airmen on a case-by-case basis, Kelly said.

Earlier this month, officials announced the service had suspended physical fitness testing until at least June.

If airmen are unable to maintain fitness standards "due to safety or other restrictions, commanders have authority to deviate from fitness standards to ensure the health and safety" of airmen and their families, according to Kelly's letter.

That applies to airmen who may be hurt or are on a "medical profile" for PT requirements, he added, as well to others in "rare circumstances."

The Air Force's latest decision closely mirrors that of the Marine Corps, which last week said it had given its commanders the authority to waive certain grooming standards in favor of heightened safety protocols.

"We very much trust the leaders to make those calls, and we've given them the latitude to waive the requirements where it's not practical to meet them," Commandant Gen. David Berger told reporters from the Pentagon on March 26.

On March 18, the Navy announced that its leaders had been authorized to temporarily relax male and female hair-length grooming standards to help prevent exposure to the fast-spreading coronavirus. Earlier that day, Navy leaders also announced physical training tests would be temporarily halted.

-- Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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