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#1
Old 03-01-2016, 08:54 AM
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Special forces wild man look (beard, long hair)

I don't know if this is actually an urban legend/stereotype, but it seems that members of elite special forces units like the Army Delta Force or the Navy SEALS often sport a look that would otherwise be considered unbecoming of a military man and undermining discipline, i. e. they have long, scruffy beards, long hair and their uniforms look highly individualistic (if they are at all wearing traditional uniforms).

One explanation I've read is that this appearance is a (preemptive) type of camouflage: They are trained to be deployed behind enemy lines and to blend into civilian populations. And looking like a bum makes that easier than being clean-shaven with a crew cut.

Is that really the reason or are these soldiers just given a lot of leeway because they are the elite of the elite, they have unusually high professional and personal standards anyway and therefore can be trusted and they don't need to be bossed around, supervised and micromanaged all the time (unlike the run-of-the mill grunt)?

Are there military regulations that specifically exempt members of these units from standard rules?
#2
Old 03-01-2016, 09:04 AM
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You seem to have it covered. These units are considered elite and do not need to be micromanaged. It's also not so much a matter of looking like a bum as it is observing the local culture. In Afghanistan, most men wear beards. If they were in a country where everyone wore pink wigs, they would wear pink wigs too.

And let's face it, when you are miles from civilization for months on end it is just more practical that way.

The actual policy is usually an "Exception to Policy" memorandum signed by the unit commander.

Last edited by Chihuahua; 03-01-2016 at 09:06 AM.
#3
Old 03-01-2016, 09:27 AM
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They are exempted from any rules inasmuch as their organization has its own rules, guidelines, etc.

.
#4
Old 03-01-2016, 09:57 AM
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Well, all the guys in my local bar that claim to have been Special Forces look like bums...

(Seriously, guys, why is it always "Special Forces, but I have trouble talking about it..."? Why not make up a believable background for yourself?:"Yeah, I was Supply Corps in 'Nam. Filing in the base office, seven, eight hours a day. Sometimes at night, I can still hear that stapler...")
#5
Old 03-01-2016, 10:15 AM
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I don't think it's so much that these guys *want* to look scruffy, etc... but rather that being clean shaven, in extraordinarly good physical shape, and having a high & tight hair cut tends to telegraph "MILITARY!!!" like nothing else save wearing a uniform does. And some portion of their job is to operate behind enemy lines and/or operate with insurgent forces, so making themselves conspicuous isn't a smart thing.

They can't really do much about the great shape part (they kind of have to be that way), but there's no reason they have to have the hair restrictions, so they don't. I think it's a combination of specific explicit allowances for those units, as well as a recognition that they're all career professional soldiers.
#6
Old 03-01-2016, 10:48 AM
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Perhaps the irony is that this look could achieve the absolute opposite and be a compromising telltale under certain circumstances.

Let's say there are homegrown terrorists at home or insurgents while on deployment who are out to target service members, and if possible the ones that they would consider to be their potentially most dangerous adversaries or high-value targets: An apparently physically fit, “Western” looking young man with long hair and beard does stick out, definitely from a larger population of other soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines who function as regular grunts, supply clerks, mechanics and cooks who do exactly look like one would expect.
#7
Old 03-01-2016, 12:59 PM
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For some sorts of missions, it's advantageous to be able to blend in with the local populace. Before deployment, it strikes me as much easier to put a "special operator" in a barber chair and trim/cut/shave his hair or beard as needed than to tell a "by the regulation" groomed operator "You're going boots on the ground in 36 hours. I want you to grow a 2 inch beard and enough hair to pull into a pony tail by then. Get cracking!"
#8
Old 03-01-2016, 01:55 PM
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Keep in mind: If you want in on as many operations as possible, then you maintain a look that is as flexible as possible. You might forgo ALL tattoos, even those that are technically within guidelines, because that's one less marking that could be a problem on some potential mission. Sure, 90% of the time, a tattoo might not be an issue, but it might be a risk on a specific assignment.

Long hair and beards have fallen into favor with some, because they help get you into assignments where these things help.



.

Last edited by Philster; 03-01-2016 at 01:58 PM.
#9
Old 03-01-2016, 02:00 PM
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http://stripes.com/news/some-spe...beard-1.115287
#10
Old 03-01-2016, 02:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Donnerwetter View Post
One explanation I've read is that this appearance is a (preemptive) type of camouflage: They are trained to be deployed behind enemy lines and to blend into civilian populations. And looking like a bum makes that easier than being clean-shaven with a crew cut.

This is probably the fundamental reason. It's amazing how just a bit of scruffiness can impact how other people view you.

My brother used to buy tax-free cigarettes is some shops, and days when he was clean-shaven, he was often rebuffed when asking for these, because the sellers thought he was a cop. If he went in with a few days growth of beard, though, he never had a problem.
#11
Old 03-01-2016, 02:26 PM
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Kinda makes you wonder...maybe we need some special forces guys that are bit old....a bit pudgey...probably couldn't kick ANYBODY"S ass without a weapon...but know their shit and can use a gun like a mofo...kinda like a cross between James Bond and random trailer trash.

It's not ALWAYS about muscles and being able to swim 10 miles in freezing water...
#12
Old 03-01-2016, 02:36 PM
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I've known quite a few special operators who have deployed overseas, and the following is my own opinion that I've never bothered to ask them.

I think the reasons for the beards are somewhat to fit in a little better with populations when they need to talk or work with local men who also wear beards, and also a whole lot that it's currently cool to have a big ol' bushy deployment beard. Again, just my opinion.
#13
Old 03-01-2016, 02:37 PM
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I had a friend that was in signals like me it ended up attached to a special forces unit at Fort Bragg and he got to do the whole grow your hair out and quit shaving thing. He told me that the special forces unit was great because they were a lot more relaxed about all the pomp and circumstance that is so common in the military and I guess because most of these guys were already elites at the top of their game they were actually paradoxically more laid back in many ways not abiding by all the regulations of military pleasantries when talking with one another in the unit even if they weren't all the same rank.

Last edited by pool; 03-01-2016 at 02:38 PM.
#14
Old 03-01-2016, 02:40 PM
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When I was in the U S Coast Guard 30 years ago ("back in the Old Guard when the men with made of steel and the ships were made of wood") one TT (telephone tech) I was stationed with earlier had just gotten orders to Italy. He told me he was allowed to have longish hair, a beard and wear civvies as protection from Red Brigade activity. Not sure what protection he would have if he tried to speak; he was of Polish ancestry. Maybe he could have used a few Polish words to fool them, as one of my junior high teachers spoke some German that he picked up as a POW to keep from being harassed by Italian street peddlers.
#15
Old 03-01-2016, 04:34 PM
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For what it's worth, it's not just special forces operators who are allowed to grow beards. We were allowed to grow beards while on extended deployments on submarines so long as the boat was at sea. This would often be for several months at a time. Those who grew beards had to prove to the Chief of the Boat (COB) on a weekly basis that they could still get a tight seal for the emergency breathing masks.

Everyone had to shave and get a haircut before we pulled into a port, though.

(Haircuts were given by some volunteer sailor who had taken a day-long course in how to be a barber.)

Other military standards were often relaxed as well, like having shoes that were shined. For example, we had an Ensign (who was an Academy graduate) who was shining his shoes (with a can of shoe polish) in the officer's wardroom once. The [Chief] Engineer (his boss) found him there and proceeded to rip into him. First off, he was told, he was releasing volatile contaminants into the ship's atmosphere that we were all going to have to breathe for the next few months. Second, he was told, there was surely something more important he could be doing with his time than bullshit Academy spit-shining, like making sure his division was squared away, or working on his quals...
#16
Old 03-01-2016, 05:24 PM
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Along with beards the ones who operated in Afghanistan also learned to ride horses.

In Vietnam the US forces took to eating Vietnamese food because the Cong could smell things like pepperoni. Also they adopted Vietnamese hygiene after they realized they could smell cologne and scented soap.
#17
Old 03-01-2016, 05:31 PM
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Originally Posted by robby View Post
Haircuts were given by some volunteer sailor who had taken a day-long course in how to be a barber.
My first boat actually sent a guy to a civilian barber school in Honolulu. The first few haircuts he gave were ... interesting ... but he was quite good after a little practice.
#18
Old 03-01-2016, 06:28 PM
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The Long Range Desert Group were at the forefront in the unconventional warfare/unconventional facial hair stakes:

http://tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww...hotos/LRDG.jpg

Last edited by Baron Greenback; 03-01-2016 at 06:28 PM.
#19
Old 03-01-2016, 06:41 PM
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The special forces team the staged the failed rescue attempt of US embassy personnel in Tehran in 1979 was like that. The young commandos had long hair and beards, indistinguishable from the young Iranian militants who stormed the US embassy. Their commander, Charlie Beckwith, looked according to them like a "dangerous hobo."
#20
Old 03-01-2016, 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by SCAdian View Post
My first boat actually sent a guy to a civilian barber school in Honolulu. The first few haircuts he gave were ... interesting ... but he was quite good after a little practice.
When I was stationed at LORSTA Marcus Island, we didn't even have that!. Just whoever wanted to try it and if you were a willing guinea pig. The first guy put the shave too close to my head and I had an imprint of a razor blade. After that, I told the next guy to just give me a crew cut...I wasn't leaving the Island. Most military people didn't want crewcuts in the early 1980s...they want hair as long as regulations permitted.

We had to have regulation haircuts but had some leniency being in the tropics. We could wear plain white t shirt instead of dark blue work shirt, have work trousers cut into shorts and wear sneakers instead of boondoggers.
#21
Old 03-01-2016, 07:13 PM
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SAS were also famous for this. They needed to blend in when operating in Northern Ireland so looked like a 20-something youth in Ireland would in the 70s-80s (long hair, beard, side burns, etc). They referred to themselves as "Mexican Bandits".

I would assume the same is true for Special Forces nowadays, except their aim is to look like a 20-something in Afghanistan or Iraq.
#22
Old 03-01-2016, 09:22 PM
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
Kinda makes you wonder...maybe we need some special forces guys that are bit old....a bit pudgey...probably couldn't kick ANYBODY"S ass without a weapon...but know their shit and can use a gun like a mofo...kinda like a cross between James Bond and random trailer trash...
Thought that's what SAD was for...

Though I think they've improved their physical fitness since the days of Phoenix et al in Vietnam. At least according to accounts from guys like Carlos Hathcock and Bob Kerrey describing guys from the Agency.

Always sounded like a really interesting job. A lot of it in the Chinese sense (RIP Johnny Spann), but interesting none the less.
#23
Old 03-02-2016, 01:12 AM
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No combat ready unit has ever passed inspection.
No inspection ready unit has ever passed combat.

- Muphy's Laws of combat Operations.
#24
Old 03-02-2016, 06:25 AM
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FWIW, I remember reading that the SF guys who were deployed as "advisors" in Afghanistan would grow beards because the locals don't take clean shaven folks too seriously - a big ol' soup catcher is a symbol of manliness/wisdom/seniority there, something like that. So for them it was a mix of blending in and staying on mission, since part of the mission was gaining the locals' trust.
#25
Old 03-02-2016, 07:13 AM
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Delta Force sometimes eschew uniforms altogether to get closer to the escapee/snatchee/killee. To then insist on traditional grooming and uniforms would make little sense. Do the Green Berets and SEALs also sometimes use purely civilian clothes?

On the topic of looking in extraordinarily good shape; they certainly are in that shape but they often just look generally ordinary/fit in loose clothing. E.g.: Here is Schwarzkopf being guarded by a Delta Force computer science teacher on casual Friday: http://americanspecialops.com/im...chwarzkopf.jpg Here he is heading for his fishing cabin right after work http://americanspecialops.com/im...protection.jpg



Kobal, twice now I've seen a documentary on GIGN selection and training where the instructors use "tu" with the trainees while selection and training is being conducted*. That's the last place I'd expect the informal "tu" to be used. Any light you can shed on why that happens?



* Like here at 31 and 32 minutes: https://youtube.com/watch?v=9wlQJSZP8p4
#26
Old 03-02-2016, 08:40 AM
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It's not uncommon for hierarchical superiors to use "tu" while expecting their underlings to keep to the "vous" - establishes social dominance and all that, while the officer/boss gets to adopt a fatherly persona. So that could be it.

Beyond that, the "vous" is falling out of popularity more and more, even in work settings. These days we follow suit with the American practice of calling coworkers by their first name and generally making believe like we're all chums rather than fellow wage slaves .

That being said I'm really unfamiliar with army practices and culture in general, so that's all conjecture on my part.
#27
Old 03-02-2016, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by MichaelEmouse View Post
On the topic of looking in extraordinarily good shape; they certainly are in that shape but they often just look generally ordinary/fit in loose clothing. E.g.: Here is Schwarzkopf being guarded by a Delta Force computer science teacher on casual Friday: http://americanspecialops.com/im...chwarzkopf.jpg Here he is heading for his fishing cabin right after work http://americanspecialops.com/im...protection.jpg
He doesn't look huge and ripped, sure. But I'll bet that guy is wiry and can probably run a really long way. There is more than one way to be in extraordinarily good shape.
#28
Old 03-02-2016, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by bump View Post
He doesn't look huge and ripped, sure. But I'll bet that guy is wiry and can probably run a really long way. There is more than one way to be in extraordinarily good shape.
Yeah but the point is, take away the gun and he looks more like a math teacher than any of my math teachers. Trig isn't something most people will instantly associate with "being in good shape". Outside of exam periods, he doesn't look like your average civilian's notion of "someone dangerous".
#29
Old 03-02-2016, 12:05 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelEmouse View Post
Delta Force sometimes eschew uniforms altogether to get closer to the escapee/snatchee/killee. To then insist on traditional grooming and uniforms would make little sense. Do the Green Berets and SEALs also sometimes use purely civilian clothes?

On the topic of looking in extraordinarily good shape; they certainly are in that shape but they often just look generally ordinary/fit in loose clothing. E.g.: Here is Schwarzkopf being guarded by a Delta Force computer science teacher on casual Friday: http://americanspecialops.com/im...chwarzkopf.jpg Here he is heading for his fishing cabin right after work http://americanspecialops.com/im...protection.jpg
Very........ unintimidating outfit.
#30
Old 03-02-2016, 12:18 PM
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Keep in mind that these pictures are 25 years old. In that era, the “wild man look” had not yet been established (for elite soldiers, anyway). Also, even elite soldiers usually did not “bulk up” in the gym in the early 1990s.
#31
Old 03-02-2016, 04:41 PM
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FWIW, the guy in question in those photos, (Retired) SGM Michael Vining, was 'famous' for being fairly low key even in a group that tried to fly under the radar. I've read one of his hobbies was stamp collecting, of all things. I've also read his nickname was "The Accountant." Whether either actually were the case, or apocryphal, who knows?

That said, if I may use the USN colloquialism, the guy was a plank owner for 1st SFOD-D, a unit where one of their main personnel screening mechanisms is making their applicants hike 20 plus miles a day on very little sleep, day after day after day. I've no questions about his drive or his fitness.
#32
Old 03-02-2016, 05:00 PM
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It's one of my favourite stories: when I came back from Afghanistan our service flight flew into a civilian airport and we had to go through normal civilian customs with our baggage, just after an international flight of tourists and kids processed. I'm a civilian and like most of the military guys, I had time to clean up in Cyprus on the way home but there were special operators among us, only slightly recognizable as humans in man-jammies with bad-ass combat beards. I could have brought in enough afghani black hash to last the rest of my life. The customs guy processed me without even looking at me while handing me back a passport, asking questions while looking over his shoulder at the two dirtbags behind me. I'm guessing they thought they'd land at the base and be processed through customs there so kept up the full filthy mufti for their comrades. I got out of there before everybody started talking about secondary searches and stuff.
#33
Old 03-02-2016, 05:10 PM
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Oh, and beards, I can't speak for Iraq but in Afghanistan yeah, the men don't respect you unless you've got a beard. I mean, they respect the hell out of your guns but if you have to actually deal with them and claim to have any influence you grow a beard, and if you want to ride in a civilian vehicle ever you grow a beard. It's often safer to live in a low-profile compound away from military assets and the kind of suicide attackers they attract, so with a full beard and the proper local clothing, you won't immediately stand out at a glance or in a passing vehicle. You don't HAVE to, but it just makes things easier, especially if you're not in uniform and rolling with a convoy with a QRF.
#34
Old 03-02-2016, 06:18 PM
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Originally Posted by digs View Post
Well, all the guys in my local bar that claim to have been Special Forces look like bums...

(Seriously, guys, why is it always "Special Forces, but I have trouble talking about it..."? Why not make up a believable background for yourself?:"Yeah, I was Supply Corps in 'Nam. Filing in the base office, seven, eight hours a day. Sometimes at night, I can still hear that stapler...")
http://terminallance.com/2015/03/17/...ing-the-valor/
#35
Old 03-02-2016, 07:19 PM
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Originally Posted by digs View Post
Well, all the guys in my local bar that claim to have been Special Forces look like bums...

(Seriously, guys, why is it always "Special Forces, but I have trouble talking about it..."? Why not make up a believable background for yourself?:"Yeah, I was Supply Corps in 'Nam. Filing in the base office, seven, eight hours a day. Sometimes at night, I can still hear that stapler...")
It's amazing how many self-proclaimed ex-Special Forces are hanging out looking derelict in bars in Thailand. They probably number more than the actual cumulative total of Special Forces! The thing is over here, every now and then he really is telling the truth. Occasionally.
#36
Old 03-02-2016, 09:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Siam Sam View Post
It's amazing how many self-proclaimed ex-Special Forces are hanging out looking derelict in bars in Thailand. They probably number more than the actual cumulative total of Special Forces! The thing is over here, every now and then he really is telling the truth. Occasionally.
Back then and there, I became welcome in SF bars, even though I wasn't SF. I found the juke box was a good indicator of who was what among the old timers. I'd look at their eyes when someone played something by Marlene Dietrich or Edith Piaf.

As for when one's afloat, whenever you're in a situation where sea showers are a necessity, a whiskerino contest makes a lot more sense than having to shave every day.
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