A video showing a long line of Marines, standing close together while awaiting haircuts, has raised questions about what's more important at the moment: military discipline or social distancing?
Jared Keller, deputy editor of the military website Task & Purpose, posted the video Monday, saying he received it from a source. At a Pentagon news conference Tuesday, a reporter asked Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, if Marines could forego a haircut rather than run the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Milley was emphatic: "I think Marines should get haircuts."
He then riffed on one of the most important battles of World War II.
"As the son of a Navy corpsman who hit the beach at Iwo Jima with the 4th Marine Division, it took extraordinary discipline to conquer that island," Milley said. "That Marine victory was the result of incredible discipline of America's 9-1-1 force and expeditionary force. It may seem superficial to some, but getting a haircut is part of that discipline."
Milley said existing hair standards should continue to apply to all military branches during the pandemic.
"There's a lot of ways to do haircuts," Milley added. Asked how he was keeping his own hair high-and-tight, he said, "It's a mirror and a thing," as he mimed trimming his own hair with a pair of scissors.
That said, Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was six feet away at a separate podium, made clear they weren't pleased with Marines standing so close together in the video described as coming from Camp Pendleton in California.
"The commandant [at Camp Pendleton], if he's watching, is probably already on it," Esper said. "If not, [Chairman Milley] is going to give him a call and say, 'What is going on? What don't you guys understand?'"
Esper said the video pointed to the larger challenge of getting troops to observe social distancing measures.
"There's no doubt in my mind that you could go to any camp, fort, base — you name it — and find somebody not following the guidance," Esper said. "Our challenge is to get out there and educate the chain of command."
The military has a rising number of cases, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt has been hit hardest. Esper said that 585 sailors out of roughly 5,000 on the aircraft carrier have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 300 are asymptomatic, but a number with serious symptoms are hospitalized in Guam, where the ship is docked. One sailor died, the military said Monday.
The carrier's former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, wrote a letter warning of the growing number of cases and called for urgent action. Crozier was then dismissed by the acting Navy secretary for sending the letter to some 20 people and going outside the chain of command.