Some female soldiers at Fort Benning support new Army regulations that ban twists and dreadlocks when wearing the uniform.
In the new regulations released Monday, the Army also set guidelines on hairstyles for all soldiers, use of tattoos, jewelry and other standards. The new hair regulations that will impact some black women pushed a Georgia National Guard soldier to start a White House petition to reconsider the changes.
At the local post, Sgt. Bethany Jarka of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said the Army Regulations 670-1 will help maintain uniformity across all the troops and have less distractions in the uniform.
"I think the new standards or updates are going to help with maintaining a higher level of professionalism," said Jarka, who works at headquarters on Kelley Hill.
Although Jarka has long hair, she has never had any problems with the standards.
"Before this new standard came out, I wore it in a bun," she said. "My hair will not change with the updates."
Master Sgt. Wonda Wilson, also assigned to headquarters, usually wears her hair cut short or pulled back, but she has worn small braids that are still authorized.
"I think they just went back and refined or defined more in detail the standards that were already out there," Wilson said. "They kinda fine tuned them, presenting a more professional look for our female soldiers."
Spc. Shalonda Allen, who works in human resources at the Sledgehammer Brigade and wears her hair pulled back, said she hasn't worn braids, but she has seen other soldiers wearing them.
"I'm glad they are re-enforcing the regulations," she said.
Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, director of Public Affairs at the Pentagon, said the requirement for hair grooming standards is necessary to maintain uniformity within the military population.
"Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative," he said. "In addition, headgear is expected to fit snugly and comfortably, without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear and without excessive gaps. Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard or others listed in AR 670-1."
Publishing the new standards helps to clarify the Department of the Army policy for proper wear and appearance of Army uniforms worn by officers, enlisted personnel of the active Army and the Army Reserve, he said.
In a petition by Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the National Guard, she seeks changes in the regulations to allow professional ethnic hairstyles. More than 30 percent of the women serving in the military are of a race other than white, she stated.
"As of 2011, 36 percent of females in the U.S. stated that they are natural, or refrain from chemically processing their hair," the petition states. "Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair. In the proposed changes, unauthorized hairstyles include twists, both flat twists as well as two strand twists; as well as dreadlocks, which are defined as any matted or locked coils or ropes of hair. These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles."
Platt said the Army has a process for soldiers to suggest changes to the regulation. The soldier must submit a form with full justification for the change and it must be endorsed through the chain of command.
Changes in the AR 670-1 went through an extensive process before they were implemented.
"Policies within these publications give soldiers and leaders the responsibility for ensuring our appearance reflects the highest level of professionalism," Platt said. "All adjustments made within these regulations went through an extensive decision-making process with continuous input from various levels of leaders across the Army."