Despite a threat of a call from the Joint Chiefs chairman following a leaked video showing long lines at the Camp Pendleton, California, barbershop, the Marine Corps’ stance on haircuts and COVID-19 remains unchanged.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger has empowered local commanders to make decisions with regards to potential relaxed grooming standards or closing barbershops over COVID-19 concerns.
The Marine Corps Communication Directorate told Marine Corps Times Wednesday that some barbershops may be closed in some areas and open in others.
The Corps trusts “leaders to make those calls, and we’ve given them the latitude to waive requirements where it’s not practical to meet restrictions,” the Communication Directorate said.
“Because [COVID], like other pandemics, is different area to area, region to region, HQMC [Headquarters Marine Corps] has not said all grooming standards are relaxed for a given period of time,” the Communication Directorate said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times.
“But HQMC directs all commanders have the latitude to make adjustments based on what’s available at varied locations,” the Communication Directorate said.
That’s been the Corps’ stance since COVID-19 began rampaging across the U.S.
The Corps did not address social distancing issues as a result of long lines at the barbershops in its statement to Marine Corps Times. Because many states have shuttered barbershops over COVID-19, Marines are left with visiting barbershops on base.
This has created long lines. Some barbershops on Marine bases have extended hours and added additional staff to handle the influx of customers. Barbershops have also limited the numbers of customers that can wait inside the shop at any one time.
But keeping the barbershops open and not relaxing grooming standards is forcing Marines to congregate in groups far larger than 10 to wait for a haircut against the advice of health guidelines put in place by a number of states across the U.S.
On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, told reporters at the Pentagon that the top Marine would be getting a call over barbershops that remain open across Marine bases despite an ongoing pandemic.
A video, obtained by Task and Purpose, which said it was shot on April 5, shows Marines waiting in a long line at a barbershop aboard Camp Pendleton, California. The Marines appear to not be maintaining proper social distancing.
When asked about the video Tuesday, Esper said the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger would be getting a phone call from Milley.
“If the commandant is watching, he’s probably on it, but if not, the chairman is going to give him a call and say ‘what is going on?’"" Esper told reporters Tuesday.
The Marine Corps would not confirm whether such a call had been made. Marine Maj. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for Berger, told Marine Corps Times that if such a call between the Joint Chiefs chairman and the top Marine occurred the conversation would be “privileged and protected engagements.”
At least one barbershop aboard the Marine logistics base in Albany, Georgia, temporarily closed on March 25 due to COVID-19.
But Milley supported Marines continuing to get haircuts Tuesday.
“Yes I think Marines should get haircuts," Milley told reporters. “Discipline is a fundamental function of our force.”
The Joint Chiefs chairman likened haircuts to the discipline it took for victory at Iwo Jima during World War II.
“It may seem superficial to some, but getting a haircut is part of that discipline," Milley said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.