“How about females maintain the SAME standard as men instead of loosening the standards for one gender?” said one Army Times Facebook commenter.
“Where is the dislike button?” said another. “This doesn’t look professional and doesn’t uphold the standards that come with wearing the uniform.”
Hundreds more sounded off, wanting beards. Other commenters said things that aren’t fit for print.
But at least one soldier, a senior noncommissioned officer, is facing a commander’s inquiry after implying in a Facebook post over the weekend that following the new regulation could be detrimental to female soldiers’ career prospects.
Master Sgt. Don Blackall prefaced his Facebook post as an “old school rant, subject: ponytails.” He described his first encounter with a woman wearing a ponytail in the Army Combat Uniform as “terrible,” saying “it appeared unkempt.”
“So yes, the regulation now allows females to wear ponytails in all uniforms. No one can stop a female from doing so,” Blackall said. “However…females who have their hair in a bun will be viewed more favorable than those who choose the ponytail.”
Blackall then identified himself as a judge advocate general senior enlisted advisor for SETAF-AF headquarters, and as “a permanent member on my battalion’s monthly promotion boards.”
“My opinion matters whether you like it or not,” said Blackall at the end of his post.
Officials at the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa — Blackall’s overarching command — distanced the organization from the comments, saying that Blackall’s positions “are not” those of the command.
SETAF-AF also launched a preliminary investigation this week into whether the social media post violated Army guidelines.
“SETAF-AF leadership strongly agrees with and is following the updated Army policy on uniform and grooming standards,” said command spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon. “SETAF-AF is currently reviewing the post and the circumstances and will make a determination of whether or not there are any violations of Army policy.”
“There is a preliminary investigation underway,” Dillon added.
Soldiers’ promotion boards also won’t be derailed by one member who remains in opposition to new policy, Dillon stressed.
“SETAF-AF considers all eligible Soldiers for promotion and holds monthly promotion boards,” he added. “All promotion boards consist of a diverse group of senior NCOs as board members to ensure fair and equitable advancement opportunities for proven Soldiers.”
Screenshots of Blackall’s post began circulating on social media Sunday afternoon, and Army Times viewed an original copy of the post from a source who is Facebook friends with him.
Blackall has since changed his name on Facebook and restricted his privacy settings, but not before some senior Army leaders weighed in over social media, as well.
“Occasionally some people can’t follow the orders of the officers appointed over them, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” said Army Lt. Gen. Ted Martin, deputy commanding general of Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, in a tweet responding to a redacted screenshot of Blackall’s post. “When that happens then it’s probably time for them to GO.”
“Let that hair flow, ladies!” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Blaisdell, senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Alaska.
Blackall did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment from Army Times made through email, Facebook Messenger, and his spouse.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.