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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

When appearance matters more than substance

Lt Col Archie Godwin, 31st AMXS Commander

I'm going to take a break from my regularly scheduled story to share with you an email I received anonymously this week. This email is about a Chief Ruuti however I have placed a picture of Lt Col Archie Godwin in this article because I believe commanders are responsible for their subordinates behavior; especially their Chiefs.

It comes from the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Chief at Aviano Air Base, Italy. As always, I'll lead with the email and then provide my own opinion below it. So the email [apologies on the size, either zoom your computer screen or pinch zoom the picture]:

So, first thing there appears to be a conflict between the subject of the email and the intent of the email. From the subject you would think there are people not on shaving waivers that are electing not to shave. The first sentence supports that asking for people to enforce 36-2903. This implies it is a dress and appearance compliance issue.

However if you notice in the 3rd paragraph [ironically led with BLUF or Bottom Line Up Front] it is addressing long-term shaving waivers. Meaning people are complying with 36-2903 yet somehow this Chief believes having a shaving waiver and serving in the military are not compatible.

He makes mention a few times of 36-2903 so let's see what the regulation says about beards and shaving [bold for emphasis]:

' Beards. Beards are not authorized (exception in paragraph unless for medical reasons, when authorized by a commander on the advice of a medical official. If commander authorizes, members will keep all facial hair trimmed not to exceed ¼ inch in length.
Individuals granted a shaving waiver will not shave or trim any facial hair in such a manner as to give a sculptured appearance. Commanders and supervisors will monitor progress in treatment to control these waivers. If necessary for medical reasons, facial hair will be kept neat and conservative (moderate, being within required limits (not more than ¼ inch); not excessive or extreme), as defined by the local commander.'

So as we can see, beards are not normally authorized however there is a medical exception, i.e. shaving waivers. The shaving waiver requires a medical professional to evaluate the individual and make a recommendation to the commander to authorize a modified treatment regimen that has guidelines and specifications. No where does 36-2903 place a limitation on how long a medical waiver for facial hair can persist. 

So when the email begins 'start enforcing 36-2903'; if the assigned individual has an authorized shaving waiver and is adhering to the guidelines for facial hair in 36-2903 there really isn't an enforcement issue is there?

The Chief goes on to say 'members are not intended to have long-term shaving waivers'

I don't think Chief Ruuti understands what a shaving waiver protects against. Coarse and/or curly hair is much more prone to become ingrown when shaved. Your hair generally keeps the same consistency for your entire life. Meaning if you require a shaving waiver once, you're likely to require a shaving waiver in the future as well.

The Chief continues 'I bet once they know they may be asked to leave the good old AF because they've been on a shaving waiver things will start fixing themselves.'

This implies two things. First that people will be separated for staying on a shaving waiver. For all the common forms of shaving bumps/ingrown hairs this is absolutely not the case. The only time someone would become non-deployable for shaving waivers would be if they become infected regularly and require surgery or recurring antibiotics. I imagine this situation occurs less than 1% of the time, and I'm probably being generous.

The second implication is that the people in his unit with shaving waivers can choose not to have them. That their condition is somehow optional. If that's the case then it is malingering. If so, they likely wouldn't get a medical recommendation for the shaving waiver right?

But here's the real kicker. The waiver is initiated by the PCM in the Med group and sent to the AMXS commander for his final authority.

If Chief Ruuti is telling his underlings to start leaning on their personnel to abandon their waivers to comply with 36-2903 [even though having a waiver complies with 36-2903] why isn't he having his commander deny these false and mission impacting medical conditions?

If the waivers were invalid why wouldn't the Chief just go to the squadron Commander Lt Col Godwin? Seems much easier to stop the fraudulent waivers before they become official right?

The answer quite simply is because the waivers are valid, and I doubt Lt Col Godwin wants to target a specific population in his unit, and apply a different set of standards.

Chief Ruuti also cited AFI 41-210 which states:

' 4.52.1. A trigger event is a condition or occurrence which may indicate a SM has (a) medical and/or mental health condition(s) that is (are) inconsistent with retention standards or deployability. After a provider recognizes a trigger event, the provider must notify the MTF PEBLO and Medical Standards Management Element (MSME), so a summary of the member‘s information can be obtained for preliminary presentation at the next scheduled DAWG meeting. Each DAWG should establish procedures and guidelines for reporting trigger events at its respective MTF. '

So is having a prolonged shaving waiver a trigger event? Likely not. Anecdotally I know lots of excellent Airmen that have served 20+ years on a continuous shaving waiver. Barring the extreme example above [surgery, antibiotics etc.] I don't imagine a shaving waiver would trigger a DAWG action.

So what is going on here?

Well I can't say for certain as I am only operating from this email. But if I had to guess?

Chief Ruuti doesn't like the way people with shaving waivers look. And he is willing to either A) threaten them into ignoring medical advice and possibly make their condition worse or B) maltreat those that place their health above his arbitrary standards and likely experience adverse impacts to their careers.

Or is it something more insidious? Whats the demographic of personnel with shaving waivers? Is there a reason why Chief Ruuti is targeting this issue specifically?

Finally, Chief Ruuti claims that 1/4" of unshaven face can negatively impact operations in a CBRNE situation. This is really one of the weakest arguments he has made [which is saying something because up to this point his arguments have been shit]. We all know special ops run around in the most hostile environments with full blown beards. Moreover, the current generation of CBRNE equipment was designed to seal even with 1/4" of stubble. 

I've elected to redact the TO block to his email because right now I want to focus on this particular Chief and how he is mismanaging his squadron. However, all of those people in the TO block have a duty to push back against this type of behavior to do right by their people. Because even thought I've redacted the names, the people in your unit know who you are and you're losing their faith and trust by allowing this abuse.

In this time of limited aircraft maintenance manpower and experience, someone needs to tell toxic leaders like Chief Ruuti to cram this type of bullshit. We should all be much more concerned with performance of our personnel rather than immaterial things like prolonged shaving waivers. It's embarrassing that a CAF unit's Superintendent is focused on this over actual issues. 

I wonder if Lt Col Godwin even knows what his Chief is doing under his nose. Hopefully he does now.


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