ARLINGTON, Va. – On Feb. 26, sweeping policy changes to the Army’s grooming and appearance standards became official. For Soldiers like Capt. Whennah Andrews, the Army’s hair policy has been an issue throughout her 11-year Army career – until she took a stand to change it.
Now, the National Guard Bureau action officer is the face of the updated regulation, pictured wearing a formerly unauthorized hairstyle that was approved largely due to her persistent efforts.
In 2016, Andrews began a campaign to change Army Regulation 670-1 (the wear and appearance of uniforms and insignia) to include locks – formerly referred to as dreadlocks – as an authorized hairstyle. By 2017, the then-District of Columbia National Guard first lieutenant’s proposal was accepted, changing an Army-wide policy that impacts 2 million active-duty, reserve-component and National Guard Soldiers.
“I’m not going to lie; it was intimidating,” recalled Andrews. “I think it’s amazing that we have a process in place where Soldiers can feel comfortable to recommend change and our leadership is open to hearing it.”
That journey began March 31, 2014. That was the day she saw a leaked document that foretold the coming ban on locks. She recalled the frustration it caused her and some of her classmates in the Basic Officer Leaders Course.
“I just remembered feeling really disappointed,” said Andrews. “We just didn’t know what we were going to do with our hair. I felt, at the time, what was considered professional wasn’t taking afro-textured hair into consideration. I don’t believe it was done intentionally; I believe it was due to a lack of proper education.”
She discovered the U.S. Marine Corps and Coast Guard had authorized locked hair. After speaking with Marine and Coast Guard women, she was advised to create a strong visual presentation.
An avid video streamer, Andrews came up with the idea to go beyond a slide presentation. Teaming with a beauty company’s video production team, she made a nine-minute video she submitted to the 2016 Uniform Policy Board.
“We understood there was no need to differentiate between locks, cornrows or twists as long as they all met the same dimension,” said Sgt. Maj. Anthony Moore of the Army’s office of the deputy chief of staff for personnel. “This is so we can expand the pool of people eligible to join the Army. You’re allowing people to come in who have skills the Army can use.”
Andrews agreed that the changes made in 2017 made the regulation more inclusive for potential and current Soldiers. It also set the stage for the current updates to the regulation. The new regulation not only shows images of Andrews as examples but eliminates what her video pointed out was incorrect and potentially offensive wording like “permanent” and “tangled.” The new regulation uses the definition she suggested in her video, defining locks as “sections of hair that twist from or near the root to the end of the hair, which create a uniform ringlet or cord-like appearance.”
She sees all the changes to the regulation as proof of a positive and open dialogue between the leadership and the diversity of the Soldiers they represent. Andrews also feels pride that the catalyst for some of the change came from the National Guard.
“Right now, there is a celebration of diversity and inclusion,” said Andrews. “To see that we in the National Guard were at the forefront of such progressive change speaks volumes to the quality of Soldiers we have, who are driven and want to see equality and fairness across the board.”
The major changes, effective Feb. 26:
- No minimum hair length for female Soldiers.
- Multiple hairstyles to be worn at once (i.e. braiding twists or locs).
- Ponytails for Soldiers unable to form a bun.
- Highlights (uniform blend of colors).
- Optional wear of earrings in the Army Combat Uniform for Female Soldiers.
- Solid lip and nail colors (non-extreme) for female Soldiers.
- Clear nail polish for male Soldiers.
The U.S. Air Force also changed its policy, updating Air Force Instruction 36-2903 on Feb. 10. As an outcome of the 101st Air Force uniform board, Air Force women will be able to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail, with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the underarm through the shoulder blades. Women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows but not cover their eyes.