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Being All They Can Be, but With Individuality

Style: Adapting to changes in fashion, the Army will allow shaved heads, braids, cornrows.

January 27, 2002|SEAN GILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — For the first time in a decade, the Army is revising its dress code, allowing more color, style and convenience into all that soldiers can be.

Front and center is the issue of hairstyles.

For male recruits, the buzz cut has always been de rigueur. Now the Army is permitting shaved heads for men, and cornrows and braids for women. Dyed hair is fine too--as long as the hue isn't blue, fire-engine red, orange, purple, green or some other hair color not found in nature.

This is still the Army, after all, so regulations still rule. No dreadlocks, and certain tattoos and body piercings are restricted.

Revised Army Regulation 670-1, the service's dress code and appearance policy, also takes into consideration soldiers' increased use of cell phones and pagers. The changes would not go into effect until Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White signs off on them, which is expected sometime in the next two months.

Army officials say that, just as fashion trends in the civilian world evolve into mainstream culture, the Army must adapt as well.

"We do try to keep up with major changes in how people look," Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd said. "But we keep up slowly."

The changes will apply to officers and enlisted personnel of the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve and will incorporate the soldiers' new black berets, introduced in June to unify the Army and mark its move to more specialized operations.

As for hair, the proposal attempts to explain why certain styles still are not allowed.

"Cornrows and braids are actually very good hairdos for a female soldier," Rudd said. "They are very practical and easy to maintain, easy to wash."

But dreadlocks are deemed less practical and less mainstream. Length also is an issue, she said.

"No one in the Army can wear long hair," she said. As for short hair--or no hair--Rudd pointed out that "shaved heads have gotten popular in the Army and in general society. They're easy to keep clean and keep cool in a hot environment."

Under the proposal, women will be able to polish their nails as long as they avoid purple, gold, blue, black, white, bright red, khaki and two-tone hues. Women may have nails no longer than a quarter of an inch from the fingertip; men must trim their nails to the tip of the finger.

Also, corrective contact lenses may be worn, but tinted contacts aren't allowed.

The regulation allows soldiers to carry one electronic device, limited by size and color, and prohibits devices unnecessary for official duties.

However, Rudd said the regulation applied only to devices worn on a soldier's body. Additional devices could be carried in a backpack or a purse.

"The Army wants soldiers to have all the devices they need to do their jobs," Rudd said.

When in the field, soldiers may soon be allowed to wear camouflage water packs, at the discretion of their commanders. Also known as a "camelback," it is basically a water-filled backpack with a long straw.

Capt. Phillip Carter, a National Guardsman and former active-duty officer, said the camelback might be the most welcome change--something soldiers have been asking to use for a while. "The single biggest problem out in the field is the lack of hydration," he said. "The camelback works amazingly at keeping you cool and hydrated."

Carter said that, while Army leadership might be resistant to some of the changes, young soldiers are encouraged by the slight loosening of some restrictions.

But the troops just may want even more changes.

Carter noted that the Marines' new combat uniform, which they will begin wearing Friday, features a digital camouflage design.

"A lot of folks are looking at the Marine Corps with a lot of jealousy," he said. "There's a sense that when the Army wants to transform, they went to the black beret, but when the Marines want to transform, they went to new high-tech uniforms."

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