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The veteran and the beard – Like peanut butter and jelly

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Do you have a veteran in your life who has a beard? It has almost become a stereotype for male veterans to leave the service and seemingly overnight grow a beard. If you’ve never been in the military, this might seem odd and could be asking why so many veterans grow beards.

Well, today, as a bearded veteran of the Global War on Terror, I’m here to answer your question. In fact, I’ll go ridiculously deep into why veterans have beards and answer your hypothetical question so well that it’s gonna hurt.

Why do veterans love beards?

I have three answers, each focusing on the different aspects of having a beard (I told you we were diving deep into the culture of veterans to come up with an answer).

Modern Style

Obviously, dudes with beards aren’t all veterans, but what affects society will affect America’s veterans. Nowadays, beards have entered the modern style lexicon once more. While they seemingly disappeared in the 1990s and even early 2000s, they have been back in full force for the last decade or so.

Beards are cool once more, and when you look at characters in movies and TV shows, you see beards. Rick in The Walking Dead, John Wick, Rip from Yellowstone, the entire cast of Sons of Anarchy, and more. Clean-cut heroes like James Bond still exist, but beards are a modern part of the style.

At the same time, veterans in American society increased significantly during and after the GWOT: More veterans, plus modern stylings and greater acceptance of beards, equals more beards.

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Shaving Sucked

If you’re a dude in the military, you have to shave every single day. There was rarely, if ever, an exception. You’d think I was joking, but having the bare minimal hair on your face was asking for trouble. There were guys who just naturally grew facial hair fast and often shaved twice a day to avoid getting yelled at. There were times when our patrol would turn into a multi-day affair, and we all brought a razor and a shared can of shaving cream outside the wire.

If you were in combat arms, you lived in the field and shaved under terrible conditions. It could be freezing cold, or you could be covered in the desert sand of the Mojave and have to shave. This wasn’t only uncomfortable but downright painful at times.

According to Gillette, shaving your face every day can cause irritation, ingrown hairs, and razor bumps. According to Healthline razors take a layer of skin along with the hair, so a man has to follow a proper regimen to avoid irritation, but your average infantryman isn’t bringing a full-face regimen to the field.

Irritation caused by shaving is compounded by living outdoors in less-than-hygienic environments and having the straps of your helmet in the area at the same time. It just sucked sometimes, and I remember more than once applying tons of cami paint to skip out on shaving. Shaving every day just left a bad taste in your mouth.

Related: This is the history behind the ‘other’ flag patch on Navy uniforms

Regulations and rebellion

U.S. Marine Corps recruits with Company B, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, shave aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., May 17, 2016. The recruits were required to shave their facial hair prior to beginning the day’s training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Erick J. Claros Villalta/Released)

Let’s just say you forgot to shave one day. Maybe it was even a good day. You did something fantastic, delivered good work, scored high on your PFT, or had an important project complete and did so well. None of that matters because you didn’t shave. Any small victory you had that day goes to hell when someone notices a little bit of hair coming out of your face.

It can cause anxiety and stress to an extreme degree. Even in your off time, someone can call you out on your lack of a shave. I once had a senior non-commissioned officer who would look at the social media of Marines on leave to see if they were shaving. I remember him catching a guy and making him write an essay on grooming standards.

No longer having to shave is also an act of rebellion. Once you take that uniform off for the last time, you’re free of all the regulations, including shaving, that ruled your daily life.

That beard you grow when you get out is a release of that anxiety and fear.

The veteran and his beard

There we have it, my way-too-long explanation of why so many male veterans have beards. Not only is it trendy, but constantly shaving can be physically irritating, and the pressure to be shaved can create anxiety.

Sometimes that beard is just an expression of freedom in the form of hair.

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.

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