April 24, 2012:
New U.S. Army regulations will impose more restrictions on how you can look. That means more conservative haircuts, shaving every day (even when off duty), fewer tattoos, and no visible piercings. Male troops cannot wear earrings at any time. No dental decorations, including gold caps. For female troops this means less makeup and dyed hair and shorter fingernails. There will be restrictions on what kind of civilian clothes can be worn on base. There are also a bunch of other petty restrictions, all intended to improve the appearance of the troops.
While fighting continues in Afghanistan, for the lifestyle police in the U.S. Army the war is over. Senior officers and NCOs who were dismayed at the usual wartime reduction in appearance standards are now talking openly about putting more emphasis on marching and similar drills, as well as greater attention to wearing uniforms correctly and saluting every time you are supposed to. More effort is being directed at improving appearances. On the positive side there will be growing emphasis on being physically fit, with more soldiers discharged for being too fat or unable to pass the physical fitness test.
But overall, emphasis will shift from being combat ready to appearing (especially to politicians and the media) combat ready. The troops call this "mickey mouse" (or a lot of less printable phrases). The troops don't like it but the senior officers and NCOs do. This time around the brass promised to change promotion standards to see that more pro-mickey mouse officers and NCOs rise in the ranks. This means going to the right service schools and getting the right assignments, as well as looking and acting like a good soldier should. It's the old "getting your ticket punched" mentality again.
During wartime the lifestyle police still try to take control but are stymied by wartime realities. For example, back in 2006, the U.S. Army was forced to back off on its "zero tolerance" rules on tattoos. "Zero tolerance" meant that if you had any tattoo showing (when you are dressed, wearing a long sleeve shirt, and long pants) the army would not take you. But after turning away so many otherwise qualified recruits the army changed the rule to allow innocuous tattoos to be showing. Moreover, the army didn't set any precise standards about what was acceptable and what was not. Enforcement was a judgment thing, with recruiters and staff at basic training centers often disagreeing over what was acceptable. The brass had been increasingly allowing recruiters to have the final say. After all, if the guys (and some gals) with visible tattoos, as a group, make good soldiers the tattoo policies themselves may be in danger. But now that fewer proven warriors are required the trend has moved towards appearance. In peacetime this is important because there is no trial by combat to prove who can fight and how well.