WASHINGTON – Barbershops at some Marine Corps bases are abuzz with demand for high-and-tight haircuts.
Despite social distancing and other Defense Department policies on coronavirus prevention, Marines are still lining up for the trademark cuts, at times standing only a foot or two (0.3 or 0.6 meters) apart, with few masks in sight.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged it's tough to enforce new virus standards with a force of 2.2 million spread out all over the world.
“Our challenge is to get out there and educate the chain of command," Esper said during a Pentagon news conference.
Esper said he provided broad guidance about following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and other health protections, but he added he doesn't wade into every detail, including whether or not Marines should get haircuts.
According to the Marine Corps, barbershops at many bases are closed, and the standards on hair length have been relaxed. But at other bases, such as the massive Camp Pendleton in California, the cuts continue.
A video put out by the base lays out all the precautions that barbers are taking, including sanitizing equipment, wearing masks and wiping down the chairs. And signs tell Marines to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart as they wait for their flat top.
Esper joked that questions about the cuts will certainly get back to the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, suggesting that the Joint Chiefs chairman would give Berger a call and say, “What is going on? What don’t you guys understand? ... Suspend haircuts for whatever period of time."
Late last month, Berger told reporters that recruits were still getting their heads shaved “as long as the barbers come to work.” But he said that if things got worse, that could change.
But, no haircut was a no go. Marines, he said, might have to cut other Marines' hair.
Esper's partner on the podium Tuesday was more in line with Berger's view.
Speaking from the required distance of six feet, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a full-throated defense of the hair cut continuum and tossed in a “Semper Fi,” the Marines' motto, which means “always faithful.”
Discipline, he said, is a fundamental function of the military, and short hair is part of that. Wartime victories by the Marine Corps, he said, are the “are result of incredible discipline of America’s 911 force.”
"It may seem superficial to some, but getting a haircut is part of that discipline," said Milley. “So, yes, I support the Marine Corps.”
Asked how he is managing to maintain his well-coiffed soldier cut, he had a quick and blunt retort: “Do you really want to know? It’s a mirror with a thing. One of those barber kit things.”