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Army hairstyle rules draw mixed reactions from black female soldiers, stylists around Fort Drum

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New restrictions on hairstyles popular among black female soldiers have generated mixed reactions across the Army, including Fort Drum.

Facing backlash, the military has launched a review of the policies.

Among the prohibited styles are twists, large cornrow braids and dreadlocks. Critics of the rule changes say the bans limit the options of women who wear their hair naturally.

Other non-race-specific hair rules for women include bans on bangs falling below the eyebrow, parts not in a straight line and claw hair clips.

The changes are part of the new Army Regulation 670-1, which addresses everything from tattoo placement and count to uniform patch order to the carrying of umbrellas while in uniform.

At Shades N Sync Salon, Evans Mills, on Friday evening, Sgt. 1st Class Melissa L. Tillman was having her hair cleaned and maintained by the salon’s owner, Toya F. Javarone. It’s a biweekly routine she has between perms done about every two months.

In some ways, Sgt. Tillman said, she agrees with the appearance policies, with some soldiers taking their hairstyles too far.

“We’re ambassadors,” she said. “There’s a standard I have to maintain.”

However, she said, she used hairstyles like the twist during each of her four deployments during her 18-year career, as they last longer and require less maintenance. She currently works with ammunition in the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The work she does to keep her hair in a uniform manner creates challenges for maintenance, such as when she sweats during routine physical training.

“With our kind of hair, we can’t wash it every day,” she said.

The Army could be helpful to women with natural hair, she said, by allowing more leniency in wearing styles like braids.

“Those can be kept nice and neat,” Sgt. Tillman said.

Mrs. Javarone, who has owned the salon for nearly three years, said most of her military clientele are higher-ranking enlisted soldiers, who have adjusted to the changes with little issue.

“It’s your profession,” she said. “You have to apply to your rules and regulations.”

However, Mrs. Javarone said, she has sympathy for soldiers looking to avoid chemical straighteners while remaining professional.

“You should have the freedom to keep your hair natural,” she said.

Alonzo Wilkerson, a stylist at Shear Perfection, Arsenal Street, Watertown, strongly disagreed with the changes, as he was shown a collection of Army slides displaying the new regulations Saturday.

“They’re taking away almost every desired style for ethnic people today,” he said.

Among those affected was his wife, who serves on post. She reacted to the new rules by breaking out the No. 2 clippers for a short style.

“She was fed up with the rules and regulations,” Mr. Wilkerson said.

The pushback from black female soldiers and lawmakers, particularly those in the Congressional Black Caucus, led Defense Secretary Charles Hagel on Tuesday to announce a review of the policies. The DOD will spend the next 30 days reviewing the service branches’ policies for authorized hairstyles.

In addition, each of the services will spend three months reviewing hair policies directly affecting black women.



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