Airmen, Space Force Guardians Could Grow Beards Under Pilot Program Proposed by House

Airman wears a beard to express his Pagan beliefs
Airman 1st Class Braxton Comer, a student services technician with the Community College of the Air Force and practicing Norse Pagan, poses for a photo, July 27, 2021. Comer requested a religious accommodation waiver for the beard and received approval in June 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske)

Airmen and Space Force Guardians would be allowed to grow beards -- one of the most requested policy changes among the rank and file -- as part of a proposed pilot program floated Wednesday evening by the House Armed Services Committee.

The beard proposal, sponsored by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, was added into the committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act. It directs the Air Force secretary to "establish a pilot program to allow members of the Air Force and Space Force to grow beards," as well as research "compatibility of beards with military equipment."

The legislation would also order the services to analyze "the effect of beard growth on discipline, morale and unity within the ranks." The Air Force and Space Force would be required to weigh whether allowing beards improves inclusivity or if beards cause any negative perceptions or bias against service members.

Read Next: Air Force's Controversial Plan to Transfer National Guard Units to Space Force Gets Gutted by House

While the added amendment must also face scrutiny from the Senate and more discussion before becoming law, its addition marks the strongest efforts to date to get the Air Force and Space Force to seriously consider letting their members wear facial hair.

Beards are allowed in the Air Force and Space Force only if a service member has a medical or religious accommodation to grow one.

    Airmen and Guardians with shaving waivers have to "keep all facial hair trimmed to the same length and it may not to exceed 1/4-inch in length," according to the Department of the Air Force instruction, which states they "may shave or trim their facial hair to present a neat, clean, professional military image."

    But Department of the Air Force leadership has been discussing for years how that may be affecting the force, particularly when it comes to razor bumps known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition that affects about 60% of Black men, according to studies by the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

    Service members have also reported in the past that shaving waivers have harmed their careers.

    In 2022, reported that officials were discussing a beard pilot program with the department's Black/African American Employment Strategy Team. Later that same year, the Air Force began allowing members of its public-facing honor guard to sport beards, within regulations, if they had a waiver. also reported last month that medical shaving waivers have exploded in popularity for the Air Force and Space Force, nearly doubling in just three years.

    If the House legislation is passed, lawmakers would have six months to start implementation of the program, according to the amendment language. The committee's annual defense policy bill must still be voted on by the full House, and then a final version must be negotiated with the Senate, meaning the beard pilot program may or may not make it into the final law.

    One year into the program, the Air Force would be required to submit a report to the House and Senate armed services committees on the initial findings. The pilot program would run for three years, and then a briefing about whether to expand it or make it permanent would be due to Congress.

    Related: Medical Beard Waivers Nearly Double in Air Force and Space Force in Just 3 Years

    Story Continues