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Beards and facial hear in Soviet Army and in Afghanistan

This is a topic which is raised often in many reenactment communities of different time periods. In the past decade the discussion became even hotter as beards went mainstream. So, is it farb to have a beard for the Soviet Army? And if not, what facial hear is ally?

Beards in military

The attitude towards beard s in military, just like in civilian life, was always changing. There are times, when beards were a big part of military culture, and then there were eras when they were completely prohibited. To complicate things even further, the fashion on beards also depends on the religion believes as well as on the area and even ethnicity. So, basically, there were no times in history when everyone would wear a beards in the military. But just as well there were no times in history when everyone in the military was shaved clean.

Beards in the Army

Beards in Soviet Army

The Soviet Army has existed for more than 70 years and, strangely enough, its views on beards have not changed during this period.

"A serviceman's hairstyle and mustache, if any, must be neat, meet hygiene requirements and not interfere with the use of personal protective equipment and wearing equipment" Extract from the Internal Statute of the Soviet Armed Forces

A reader, who is even a little knowledgeable in legal documentation, will notice that there is no direct prohibition of beards. However, it was implied that beards are not to be worn by the personnel of Army and Navy, despite their rank and position.

The most common explanation which can be found today is that beard prevents the use of personal protective equipment, such as a gas mask. This, of course, depends on the beard size and on the model of the gas mask, but generally speaking it is untrue. A gas mask of the correct size will not prevent the functional use of NBC equipment.

Beards in the Army
Trendy beard style in the 1940s

One practical reason behind the ban on facial hear was strictly hygienic - not everyone could keep himself clean and louse free, especially with the limited access to regular showers, as it was the case in the Soviet Army. In most units, Soldiers would only have a shower once a week.

The more realistic explanation is the traditions of the Soviet Army and the eternal desire of unification of everyone's appearance. Higher officers preferred their soldier to be good looking and, of course, the "beards" of 18 year old conscripts would rarely be nominated in the International Beard Beauty Contest. It should be noted, however, that beards were allowed to those who had a visible face injury - to cover the scars.

Beards in the Army
"Partisans" - Soviet reservists on a field exercise

Another exception would be the military training of reservists. Despite best intends, these exercises were always very poorly organized. A bunch of unmotivated adults were dragged to the army bases for couple of weeks and placed under command of officers, who were usually much younger then themselves. This is actually how the mobilization for the Afghan War was done - more on that can be read in a separate article.

These "soldiers" were called "partisans" - for their resemblance to the Soviet "resemblance" during the Second World War. They had beards, wore uniform as pleased and rarely listened to their superiors. Asking these people to shave or to get a military style haircut would not help the cause.

Mustaches in Soviet Army

Beards in the Army
Epic mustache during the Second World War

Unlike beards, mustaches were always a big part of the Soviet Army culture. Ever since the Civil War, mustaches were worn by soldiers and officers. In some units, usually cavalry and Guards, mustaches were almost obligatorily. The tradition stayed until the very late days of the Soviet Union, with mustaches changing their appearance to fit into the fashion trends of the era.

Beards in the Army
Soviet airborne officer cadet and private

Soviet army and facial hair in Afghanistan

It is not uncommon for the Armies to loosen up the discipline a little during actual war campaigns. Well, while this was partially true even for the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, it definitely did not apply to the facial hair. All soldiers were required to shave regularly - and they did. The exceptions would be done on longer operations, with no practical means for shaving. Officers would also do it out of habit, having bristle was not encouraged and other officers would not appreciate it from their colleague.


Beards in the Army

Moreover, beards were quite popular on the other side - Mujaheddins had them as port of their national and religious traditions. So, having a big beard could be very counterintuitive and could lead to friendly fire among the ranks of the Soviet Army. This was unacceptable and soldiers understood this, hence almost no one had any facial hear, even mustaches were uncommon.


Beards in the Army

Another important point to note is that army depends a lot on the fashion at the time. In 1980s in the Soviet Union beards were not popular among youth - they were generally reserved for elders and usually those living in rural areas. While many soldiers serving in Afghanistan were not from big cities, they were all very young - typically 18 to 20 years old.

So, wearing beards would not be in trend even if they were allowed by the command.

Beards in the Army

The mustache was an exception. It was worn by quite a number of officers of all ranks, as well as by many soldiers. Though, it was common in the Soviet Army traditions to only allow mustaches to those soldiers who already served at least a year or more. Younger recruits would usually have clean pretty faces.


Advise for reenactment events of all sorts

In the past, I was always vowing against beards for Soviet reenactment. It is farb, and I mean, common, you can always attend the event as Mujahedeen and look 100% authentic with your beard. Nowadays I would still advise against it, but would not be so strict - after all it is just a game. However, if you are trying to do some more or less serious impression, especially for a video or photoshoot, having a beard should only be within the historical realities.

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