Black Marine Pushes Corps to Expand Hairstyle Policies

By Sheryl Estrada

Staff Sgt. Cherie Wright. Photo credit: DVIDS

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller approved on Monday locks and two-strand twist hairstyles for women serving in the Marines. Staff Sgt. Cherie Wright played a major role in theapproval.

Wright was an advocate and a sponsor in the room for the many Black women Marines who desired to wear the hairstyles. When former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the military branches review their hairstyle policies in 2014, Wright submitted a recommendation letter to her commandwith the proposed addition of locks and twists.

Related Story: Female Soldiers Protest New ‘Racially Biased’ Army Grooming Regulation

The requirements announced by Hagel at the end of March 2014 received backlash from some soldiers and members of Congress, who called such requirements racist. Hairstyles including two-strand twists and locks were prohibited.

In August 2014, Hagel then announced the military rolled back prohibitions on popular Black hairstyles within its ranks. Branches of service including the Army, Air Force and Navy made immediate changes, allowing service members to wear their hair in two-strand twists.

However, the Marine Corps required a longer review. Wright’s proposal grew into adiscussion and resulted in the implementation of a survey released by the uniform board that sought feedback on hairstyles from female and male Marines.

Wright, a supply chief with II Marine Expeditionary Force, also briefed then Commandant Gen. James Amos about her proposal.

“While briefing Marines, my focus was about awareness and professionalism,” Wright said in a statement. “Once the information and facts were presented, the perceptions of many Marines changed.”

The Marine Corps, which is the first branch of the armed forces to approve locks,defines the hairstyleas a section of hair that is twisted at or near the root of the hair to the end of the hair and may be worn with short, medium or long hair. The Air Force changed the term dreadlocks to “locs,” and the current female grooming and personal appearance standards say locs are not authorized hairstyles. The Army and Navy also do not allow locks.

A twist is defined as two sections of hair twisted together to form a rope-like appearance and may be worn with medium and long-length hair. A braid is defined as three or more sections of hair interlaced and may be worn with medium and long hair.

The Marine Corps’ website explainshow service members must maintain the twohairstyles:

Lock and twist hairstyles are authorized as long as they are neat and maintain a professional military image. The hairstyles must be secured with no hair exceeding the bottom edge of the collar and not have bulk, other than the bun, exceeding two inches from the scalp. Hairstyles must not interfere with the wear of covers.When worn loose, the individual locks, twists or braids will be no more than three-eighths an inch in diameter and be no more than three-eighths an inch apart. When worn secured, the twist or braid will be no more than three-eighths an inch in diameter. Mixing of hairstyles is not authorized.

In a video titled “Female Grooming Standards for the Wearing of Entwined Hair,” which is posted on the Marine Corps YouTube channel, Staff Sgt. Cherie Champ explainswhat the hairstyles look like and what the regulations are for the wear of the locksand twists.

Champ saysin the video the hairstyles should not look “eccentric” or interfere with headgear. The new hairstyle authorization includes a term “entwined,” which means to wrap around or to gather.

“Braids, twists and locks are the only entwined hairstyles authorized for wear in uniform,” Champ saysin the video.

Within the next month, a webpage with illustrations showing authorized and unauthorized male and female hairstyles is expected to be completed and added to the Marine Corps Uniform Board website.

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