There are clean lines of division between the candidates.
Their impassioned supporters are taking to social media to weigh in on where they stand on the issues.
But it’s not the height of the political season that has the Army’s soldiers fired up. Instead it’s the Army’s plans to update its grooming regulations that has them expressing their strong opinions.
Among other things, the Army wants to hear from its soldiers on whether it should ban visible tattoos or allow its female soldiers the opportunity to sport French manicures or earrings while wearing combat uniforms.
Those are some of the questions that Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler wants answers to as the Army prepares to update its regulations on how soldiers should look while in uniform.
Chandler told the Army Times earlier this week that grooming standards send a message to the American public about the Army’s professionalism.
“I believe that we can better visualize to the American people and the Army what it means to be an American soldier than we’re doing now,” he said.
To that end, Chandler turned to Facebook to help him get input from soldiers about what grooming standards need to be updated.
Last month he posted, “Give me your thoughts on earrings for females in ACUs, or if French-tipped fingernails should be allowed,” Chandler wrote. “What about tattoos? Do visible tattoos in ACUs (neck, hands, etc.) keep us from being professional Soldiers?”
ACUs stands for Advanced Combat Uniforms, the Army’s pixelated camouflage uniforms. His questions have so far drawn more than 1,200 responses.
Like all the military services, the Army has very detailed regulations about the grooming standards for its soldiers while in uniform. The regulations are extremely detailed and run the gamut from the length of haircuts to how much make-up female soldiers can wear when in uniform.
For example, when it comes to fingernails for female soldiers, they “will not exceed a nail length of 1/4 inch, as measured from the tip of the finger” and though fingernail polish is allowed, they can’t be of “extreme colors” or “two-tone or multi-tone.”
But it is the easing of the tattoo policy in 2006 that has drawn the most responses on Chandler’s Facebook posting, with many favoring a return to tighter standards.
The Army eased its tattoo policy in 2006 as it struggled to meet recruiting goals at the height of the war in Iraq. Some eligible recruits were being turned away because of regulations that banned visible tattoos on the hands and neck. The regulations were adjusted to allow for those kinds of tattoos as long as they were not racist, sexist, extremist or offensive in nature.
Some of Chandler’s Facebook respondents say relaxing that policy now makes soldiers look unprofessional.
“I don’t know why the tattoo standards ever changed. Nothing should be on the neck and also on the hands,” says one.
“Having my nails done in a neatly fashion doesn’t affect my performance and skills or what I believe in. It absolutely looks professional,” says another.
Current regulations make no mention of cell phone use while in uniform and some Facebook respondents think it’s time the Army comes up with a policy on that issue.
“It is 1 a safety hazard to drive and to see troops walk around strapped to their head not paying attention to anything. Plus it is so unprofessional of our Junior Enlisted and our Senior in any rank,” writes a Facebook respondent.
Chandler told the Army Times the goal in updating the regulations isn’t just to bring change, but to bring clarity to the ranks.
For Chandler, the Facebook outreach is a way to get insights and information from soldiers, their families and former soldiers.
“I would assume there are going to be some changes,” he told Army Times. “Exactly what they are it’s too early to tell.”
Any recommendations he eventually comes up with will have to be approved by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh.