The Most Famous Combat Beards in US Military History

SOF Operator dressed in combat uniform with a beard
Military beards in SOF community (Photo: Fallbrookstudios)

The combat beards in the Special Operations Forces community are not new. Through time, the military community has seen various comebacks, and they can resist all it wants but not beards. Today, the U.S. Special Operations Forces had popularized combat beards to that point that almost every operator is bearded during deployment, but still, for the regular soldiers, it is forbidden.

Military beards and rules

A regular soldier will be required to maintain standards in accordance with AR 670–1 (for Army personnel) much in the same way they would adhere to the grooming standards when not deployed. This means shaving every day.

In fact, a growing beard is forbidden in the military since the first World War. And not because of some regulations, it is forbidden because at that time there were a lot of gas attacks, and it is widely known that you cannot use regular gas masks if you have a beard. It needs to be applied skintight in order to work effectively.

The only way I can see a beard being effective to combat is blending into the environment (If everyone around you also has beards). And that is the reason why Special Operations community grow beards when deployed. Of course, it is less often that special forces operators would be exposed to the use of military gas weapons. There are also some exceptions that will allow service members to wear a beard for religious reasons.

In recent times, there were conducted some studies to explore how individuals with (or without) facial hair are seen by others. Women rated men with facial hair as more attractive and appearing healthier than those who were clean-shaven — and now male service members want major change.

The rules in the United States military vary. For example, the Navy does not allow mustaches alone but does allow full-set beards. Mustaches but not beards are permitted in the Army and Air Force. However, members of the Special Operations Forces and Special Forces regiments are allowed to wear beards if based outside their home camps.

But until the US military welcomes the beard, it’ll remain a rare sight on our best warriors. That is enough reason to admire the most famous military beards in history so far.

Top 5 Military beards

Cowboy

The Most Famous Combat Beards in US Military History
Cowboy (Photo: Electronic Arts)

A backdated in 2002 when Scott Nelson photographed a U.S. Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, the beards were rare. Soon as the Unit began to search for the terrorists in the area, Scott notices one of the operators with a full-grown beard. The operator was responding to the nickname “Cowboy”. He took a photo of him and since then, he shrouded in mystery. His real identity remained unknown.

This photo inspired people so much, that Danger Close Games used his likeness as inspiration when finding and outfitting the model for their Medal of Honor game.

As described above, it could be taken into count a tactical environment and blending into the area as the answer for this otherwise-too-long-in-my-opinion beard.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside

The Most Famous Combat Beards in US Military History
Gen. Ambrose Burnside (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Despite his overall impressions on the battlefield and all of Ambrose Burnside’s defeats, he had the best facial hair ever. He may be the worst general in US military history, but in his defense, it should be fair enough to say that for example, e.g., Antietam and the Battle of the Crater involved frontal assaults with inadequate preparation.

The reason for this was that Ambrose Burnside knew he was incapable of independent command and said so, he was a classic victim of the Peter Principle, continuously being kicked up the chain of command for posts he neither had the ability nor the desire for. He simply lacked the talents required for effective high command, and it showed badly in his performances.

No list of military beard would be complete without the man whose whiskers were so incredible that the world named a patch of the beard after him.

Prince Harry of Wales

The Most Famous Combat Beards in US Military History
Prince Harry and an American wounded warrior in a wheelchair shake hands at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto. (Photo: DoD)

The pictures of the bearded prince in his flight suit at the 2015 Battle of Britain Flypast are why I am personally in full favor of allowing beards in uniform. In relation to Prince Harry he has started to sport a beard during a number of official events such as remembrance day and by Army standards whilst wearing the uniform he should not, however, who would argue with him?

Prince Harry served from 2005-2015, even secretly deploying on combat missions in Afghanistan before his position was publicized and he was pulled out for security reasons. He’s the epitome of cool, he fully recognizes the meaning and importance of service, and he’s proof that a military beard can still look professional and clear.

But, what are the rules for the beards in the British Army?

In the British Army, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, beards are not permitted, but mustaches are. The main exception to this rule is with Pioneers, who also wear aprons and carry axes and here is a good example of a British Army pioneer. Also, military personnel was encouraged to sport facial hair in the recent war In Afghanistan to better blend in with Afghan men whose use wearing facial hair is seen as a sign of authority and virility.

Ulysses S. Grant

The Most Famous Combat Beards in US Military History
Ulysses S. Grant (Photo: Public Domain)

Ulysses S. Grant was the general that broke General Robert E. Lee and the Confederates after numerous generals under President Lincoln failed to end the war. Probably one of the most skilled and adaptable generals in the Union, he led a campaign in the west that split the Confederacy in two, And in the Eastern Theatre lead the Army of the Potomac as Supreme Commander in defeating the Confederacy.

His aggressive yet controlled battle tactics, along with unpredictable troop movements and unparalleled leadership lead the Union to victory. He is still to this day hailed as one of America’s war heroes, contributed to saving the Union and piecing back the country.

After Cold Harbor assault he has become known as the Butcher. Ulysses S. Grant also served two terms as U.S. president. That is the beard of victory right there.

Maj. Gen. George Crook

The Most Famous Combat Beards in US Military History
Maj. Gen. George Crook (Photo: Wikipedia)

George Crook cut his teeth fighting Native American tribes in Oregon before the Civil War. When he was called on to serve the Union, he used the same tactics in the face of the rebel enemy. His beard is exactly the kind you’d expect from a man the Apaches called “Grey Wolf.”

Conclusion

Today, the beards are not related only to Hollywood movies, but movies don’t follow regulations and have great images for marketing. But there is some accuracy to the beard and hair-cut “Relaxed Grooming Standards” by SOF operators and Field Advisors.

There is a number of reasons for growing beard while deployed including the relaxed grooming standards being a “perk” of sorts, but it’s much more practical than that. Like I have pointed out, many times they will have to “blend in” with the locals and such and with current operations, that involves the Middle East and Afghanistan, where growing a beard is viewed as a sign of manhood.

However more than that, it’s well-known that the military has strict grooming standards, so seeing someone who doesn’t adhere to that can cause hesitation and even confusion because they don’t look like American military. However, in the end, it depends on the SOF operator’s personal opinion.

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