Outfoxing the Bearded Troops

Just after my arrival, I was notified we were to have our annual IG inspection.   In preparation for this event, I had the CSM call a mandatory formation of all enlisted personnel.  I wanted to inspect them in their class “A” uniforms.  As I walked through the ranks, I came upon three young specialists sporting beards.  The three of them had smiles on their faces as I passed them.

They expected I would lose my temper seeing them sporting a full beard and moustache—after which they would produce a doctor’s sick slip stating they had some facial irritation allegedly from shaving and had a 90-day “no shave” slip. 

Back in Vietnam, as General Smith’s aide, I had seen enlisted personnel in non-Special Forces units pull the same trick. SOOooo, I said nothing to these rebels in my formation—which spoiled their fun that morning.  When the CSM and I returned to the headquarters, I asked him to have the operations NCO bring in the training records for those three men.

As I suspected, they had not been to the gas chamber since their arrival in Korea. Come to think of it, I had to also go through the chamber myself.  The next morning at reveille, their names were called out to report to the Operations Sergeant after breakfast with their gas masks to take their required gas chamber test.

I met the three young men at the entrance to the gas chamber and told them since I also needed to be tested, I would go in with them.  The gas chamber drill was the same at every U.S. Army post.  You entered the gas chamber and the operator would close the door then over the intercom, he would tell you to put on your mask and ensure it was properly seated so that the tear gas would not seep under the ill-fitted mask. 

This time however—at my request—the NCO in charge said we would not be using regular tear gas—instead we would be using CS gas. He told us to make doubly sure our masks were properly seated on our faces as inhaling CS gas would make a soldier throw up his breakfast inside his gas mask.

The reason the army wants soldiers to be clean shaven is simple.  A gas mask will not seat properly on facial hair, allowing the gas to seep under the unseated area—as these three young soldiers soon learned.  Outside the gas chamber, after they had finished throwing up all over themselves, I told them since they had failed the gas chamber test, we would have to reschedule them through it again in a day or two.

The three young soldiers were all clean shaven at reveille formation the next morning—and for some strange reason, we never had another case of shaving rash while I was there.