You know, the stereotypical special forces guy – decked out in camo, freshly shaven, and ready to take on any dangerous mission.
However, for the Canadian special forces, it’s pretty different. They can now spot beards without any worries- so long as it’s well groomed.
The beard helps these elite soldiers blend into environments, build rapport with local populations, and maybe intimidate enemies. But a couple of years ago, the Canadian armed forces members (CAF members) weren’t allowed to keep their beards. How did they go from that to keeping groomed facial hair? Well, we’ll get down to all the juicy details soon.
Get strapped in while we take a journey down memory lane.
The History of the Canadian Special Forces Beard
Like any military institution, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is deeply rooted in tradition and discipline. This reflects in their operations, dress, and deportment standards. It also includes regulations about facial hair.
The history of beards in the CAF is a fascinating narrative that intersects practical military requirements with evolving societal norms and expectations.
From the early days of the Canadian military until the late 20th century, grooming standards were particularly strict.
Members of the CAF were allowed to have mustaches, but beards were forbidden mainly, except for specific exemptions.
This policy stood in contrast to the early years of Canadian military service when soldiers often sported robust facial hair, reflecting the fashion trends of the Victorian era. The no-beard policy was standard across most NATO militaries and was rooted in practical reasons: the requirement to wear gas masks.
Gas Mask Theory
The “Gas Mask Theory” is a common justification for the no-beard rule in many military organizations, including the CAF.
Gas masks need to create a tight seal against the skin to function effectively, something that’s not possible with a beard. Since the First World War, when chemical warfare became a significant threat on the battlefield, militaries worldwide have maintained the need for soldiers to be clean-shaven to ensure gas mask effectiveness.
However, there were certain exceptions to this no-beard policy. Medical exemptions were granted for conditions such as pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition that can be aggravated by regular shaving.
Additionally, exemptions were also made on religious grounds. For instance, Sikh soldiers, for whom growing a beard is a religious obligation, were allowed to maintain their beards.
The CAF began to see some changes in the late 20th century, with more flexibility granted to Canadian Special Operations Forces members. The nature of their covert operations often required these soldiers to blend in with the local populace, particularly in regions where facial hair is expected.
Thus, the Special Operations Forces got a certain degree of leniency in their grooming standards, including the permission to grow beards.
A significant shift occurred in the mid-2010s when the CAF started a comprehensive review of its grooming standards. This effort was part of a broader initiative to modernize the Canadian Armed Forces and make them more inclusive and adaptable to contemporary social norms.
New Beard Rule
In 2018, an order was issued that allowed all CAF members to grow beards, albeit under certain conditions. The beards had to be neatly trimmed, especially on the lower neck and cheekbones, and not exceed two centimeters in length. Although beards were now permitted, the “Gas Mask Theory” was still a consideration. When a gas mask needs to be worn, the members may need to shave to ensure the mask’s proper sealing and the soldier’s safety.
Today, the bearded Canadian soldier is no longer an exception but a reflection of the changing face of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Yet, these changes haven’t compromised the organization’s core values. Whether bearded or not, Canadian soldiers continue to exemplify discipline, professionalism, and a commitment to the nation’s service. However, practical considerations like the “Gas Mask Theory” may sometimes necessitate a return to the clean-shaven tradition.
The New Updated Canadian Forces Dress Instructions
The Canadian Forces Dress Instructions have been updated to permit facial hair for Canadian Armed Forces members.
This change allows individuals to have beards, sideburn mustache shes, and goatees, with no specific maximum or minimum length requirement, as long as they are well-maintained.
The emphasis is on keeping the beards neatly groomed, symmetrical in style, and compliant with safety and operational requirements.
This dress instruction update reflects a shift in the Canadian Armed Forces’ approach to individual expression and inclusivity while maintaining a professional appearance.
It recognizes that personal grooming choices, such as having a beard, are essential for some individuals. Besides, it’s an effort to make the Canadian Armed Forces more attractive because more control over personal appearance boosts morale.
However, the beard should be groomed every military personnel’s hair should be trimmed so it won’t affect the proper wear of the headdress. If the personnel has long hair, it should also be tied, especially when it extends below the service dress collar or ridge of the shoulder.
It is important to note that this change is part of a broader update to the Canadian Forces Dress Instructions. Other changes include allowing long hair and face tattoos.
However, the task force commanders or commanding officers may restrict long or facial hair when necessary. One of the most important parts of the dress instructions is that military personnel’s outfit must, on all “occasions reflect credit on the CAF” and the members.
The Canadian Special Forces Selection Process
To earn the right to wear the iconic bearded beret of the Canadian Special Forces, you must pass a rigorous selection process.
This begins with meeting the basic qualifications to apply, like being a Canadian citizen in excellent health between 22 to 35 years of age.
Pro Tip: Vaping or smoking may affect physical fitness, which could impede your chance of getting into the force.
Now, let’s examine the selection process:
The Assessment Phase
If selected to move forward, you’ll go through a thorough assessment of your mental and physical abilities. This starts with a medical exam, aptitude tests, and an interview with a military psychologist. They need to ensure you can handle the mental stresses of the job.
The Basic Training Phase
If you pass the assessment, you’ll move on to basic training. This includes basic soldier qualification, survival training, and learning combat skills like hand-to-hand fighting and weapons handling. You’ll be pushed physically and mentally to build endurance, learn teamwork and develop a “never quit” attitude.
The Specialist Skill Training Phase
Now the real fun begins—you’ll receive advanced training in reconnaissance, close-quarters combat, hostage rescue, and counter-terrorism. At this point, you’ll become proficient in specialist weapons, navigation, parachuting, and surveillance. Demolitions and foreign languages may also be part of your training.
The final hurdle is selection, a multi-week field exercise where candidates are evaluated on all skills. Your physical fitness, teamwork, problem-solving abilities, and perseverance will be tested to the extreme. If you make it through selection, you earn the right to become one of the elite in the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.
The Cultural Impact of the Canadian Special Forces Beard
The Canadian Special Forces beard has become an iconic symbol of masculinity, toughness, and patriotism. For many, the beard represents the grit, determination, and strength of character that these elite soldiers embody.
The beard has permeated Canadian society and become ingrained in our national identity. It frequently appears in media, movies, TV shows, books, and video games featuring special forces characters. This has helped cement it as a symbol of courage and heroism in the public consciousness.
For some, the beard stirs feelings of national pride in Canadian military achievements and the sacrifices of service members. It honors the demanding work special forces soldiers do to protect Canadian values like freedom and democracy.
As you know, the facial hair on military personnel serves a real tactical purpose. When operating in hostile environments, every advantage matters- including getting help for war-related health issues like Operational Stress Injury (OSI).
In terms of advantages, the beard provides camouflage and helps special forces soldiers blend into local populations. It’s a tool that has proven helpful time and again.