By Scott Taylor
It was announced last week that the Canadian Armed Forces is going to relax the ban on beards and allow soldiers, sailors and airmen to grow facial hair. Under the terms of the previous regulations, only sailors assigned to shore duty and infantrymen serving in specialized Pioneer units were allowed to sport beards.
There were also exceptions made for those whose religious faith forbids shaving, and in Afghanistan and Iraq beards were increasingly common among both Canadian Special Forces and regular troops.
Of course this being the military, there are still a number of rules defining what can and cannot be grown on one’s face.
For instance, beards need to be neatly trimmed as opposed to having a full on hipster look. The beard must also be accompanied by a moustache. It is also noted that in circumstances where personnel are required to wear either fire-fighting gear or protective gas masks, the beards must be shaved off.
All in all, it is a very minor adjustment to the existing policy, but what grabbed my attention was the official rationale for making this change. According to Chief Warrant Officer Alain Guimond, the CAF’s senior non-commissioned officer, the decision to allow beards is aimed at improving morale and attracting more recruits.
I find it difficult to believe that someone considering joining the military would be prepared to conform to the strict discipline, meet the physical challenge and be willing to die for his country, but draws the line at shaving off his beard.
It is equally hard to envision that someone who has served in the military and is now prepared to transition to a civilian life, would suddenly reverse course and stay in uniform just because they can now grow a set of whiskers.
The military began sliding down the slippery slope of relaxed standards over a decade ago when they removed even the most basic of fitness tests for new recruits. In order to not eliminate a candidate who might indeed one day make a professional service member, recruits were enrolled even though they were obese and unfit. They were put into what is essentially a weight loss program to prepare them to begin basic training when and if they can get into shape.
At the same time, the Canadian military became increasingly lax at enforcing the ‘universality of service’ requirement of a minimum level of fitness for serving personnel.
On October 29, 2016, the Washington Post ran a story entitled “The Battle of the Bulge: Many of Canada’s Troops are Fat”, in which it was reported that 49 percent of all Regular Force personnel were considered overweight and 25 percent were considered obese.
These statistics were taken from a survey conducted by the Canadian military. That survey concluded that the continued increase in obesity – 6.1 percent were considered morbidly obese – was a result of too much sitting around and bad eating habits.
In other words, the obesity in the Canadian military is something easily remedied with fitness and self-discipline – two qualities one would expect military personnel to possess in abundance.
However, instead of enforcing the policy of demanding that personnel keep themselves fit enough to be deployable – in 2016, 17.4 percent of Canada’s soldiers were unable to meet that mark – the Canadian Forces initiated a program to provide weight loss surgery to the morbidly obese. It was estimated that DND spends over $200,000 a year doing stomach-stapling operations on an average of a dozen soldiers.
There is no corresponding evidence to suggest that the relaxing of fitness standards, or the accommodation of the excessively obese has in any way led to increased recruitment or any improvement in morale.
The allowance of facial hair is a minor step, but it is a step. Now, with the legalization of marijuana, I fear that the future Canadian military will be overweight, dope-smoking hairy-faced hipsters.
For the record, I have long maintained that the Canadian military is not ‘among’ the best in the world, they are the best in the world. Let’s hope they remain an institution all Canadians can take pride in.