The Rumor Doctor over at Stars and Stripes, Jeff Schogol, has done a good piece on the issues that conventional force commanders have with Special Operation Forces (SOF) and their relaxed grooming standards. The article points out how the wearing of a beard by a man is very well-respected.
For Afghan men, beards are a sign of manhood. And that is why special operations forces tend to look like Grizzly Adams — to earn the trust of locals.
Delta Force operators never shave all year except for official military functions so that they can be ready at any time to quickly insert and appear as a non-military person. SOF forces have been growing bears in Afghanistan since we got there in 2001. You would think that conventional commanders would be used to it by now and not have their panties in a wad over it.
The BOLD emphasis below is mine.
But the higher ups have decided that at least some of the U.S. special operations forces should get better acquainted with their razors…“Soldiers who work as training cadre and those in operational activities where we partner with Afghan Commando and other Coalition troops who are themselves mostly clean-shaven, are better prepared, and set a better example if they meet a traditional military appearance standard,” said Bob Coble, spokesman for Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, via e-mail.
What I think the issue is with these commanders is that now that conventional forces (not just National Guard anymore in Task Force Phoenix) are embedded with and personally mentoring Afghan forces, that their own troops are having relaxed grooming standards, wearing ball caps, etc. But the reality is that the embedded mission with local forces is a true Special Forces mission, but there are not enough of those guys to do it. That is why the National Guard took over that mission in 2003 and kept it until Aug 31st of 2009 when the ETT mission essentially went away and the new Brigade Combat Team model took over. When that happened, then conventional forces (101st, 82nd, 10th MTN, etc.) took over both kinetic and embedded and mentoring missions.
Back in 2006-2007 when I was there as an ETT, our Commanders and leaders did not give a crap about un-bloused boots, ball caps and some facial hair. To be quite honest, it was not important as we did not have to “set the examples” for junior soldiers because we did not have any junior soldiers. We had all Sr. NCOs and officers. When I went downrange for extended missions of 2-4 weeks I never shaved. There wasn’t time and we could not afford the water waste to do it. When I came back to my FOB, then I shaved as it was the right thing to do and I had no reason to grow a beard anymore. All of my soldiers on my team were the same way. Conventional forces didn’t typically mess with us, but the higher Task Force Phoenix did if we happened to go back to Camp Phoenix in Kabul. They had a very over-zealous BCT CSM that had nothing better to do that worry about patches, clean uniforms and other minuscule soldier looking things.
So the Big Army pushed and pushed to take over the ETT mission from the National Guard whom I feel (and this is purely my opinion) were the only ones conducting the real COIN fight and were on the path to success as we were training the military and police which is the path to leaving Afghanistan. Well Big Army got it and all that comes along with it, but now the whole beards and ball caps issue bothers some in the field grade and higher officer ranks.
You can take a look at the movie RESTREPO (which if you haven’t seen, I suggest you do) and see Big Army soldiers from the 173rd ABN with some relaxed standards, ball caps, etc. and their Commander, CPT Kearney (son of LTG Kearney) did not give a crap about that. Because in the grand scheme of things that stuff does not matter. It doesn’t save lives or help kill more enemy.
I think the officers and probably some of the Sergeant Majors in Afghanistan need to worry about many more important things then beards on SOF forces or what the reflective belt color of the day is. They need to worry about making sure that everything humanly and technically possible is being doing to support, arm, feed, and provide intel to our soldiers on the battlefield.
Read the whole story at http://www.stripes.com/news/some-special-ops-troops-told-to-lose-the-beard-1.115287