An Army master sergeant with the 25th Infantry Division said his command revoked his selection for a company first sergeant position after he posted a celebratory social media video that highlighted his shaving profile.

Master Sgt. Darhem Victor Parker was set to take over as company first sergeant for the Alpha Company, 29th Brigade Engineer Battalion, but after he uploaded a video on TikTok about how people would be surprised to see a first sergeant with a beard, the position was suddenly withdrawn.

The Army’s guidelines for facial hair standards are very strict and beards are only allowed if soldiers are given a shaving profile, or an exception typically based on medical or religious accommodations. Parker’s shaving profile is approved as a medical accommodation based on a skin condition.

Medical accommodations are granted if a soldier has a medical condition that warrants facial hair and a medical professional has signed off. The facial hair must be groomed to not exceed one-quarter inch in length. Religious accommodations must be approved before a soldier begins growing their beard and must not exceed 2 inches from the chin to the beard.

In 2022, a Sikh Marine captain filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Marines’ policy prohibiting the wearing of a traditional turban and beard in combat zones or recruit training was discriminatory. In March 2024, the Navy completed a study on whether beards interfere with the application of gas masks and appear to be in the process of making changes regarding religious and medical accommodations for beards.

Parker was informed by the brigade sergeant major in early April that he was offered the first sergeant position. He was set to fill the role on May 22. He had his command photo taken immediately so he could hit the ground running, he told Army Times.

For a week and a half, Parker said he sat in meetings for the first sergeant position and the outgoing first sergeant taught him about the company. During the process, Parker said he talked numerous times to the battalion sergeant major, who said nothing about his beard or haircut.

On April 30, Parker uploaded a video to his @blackunicorn2023 TikTok account showing off his newly acquired command photo. His social media profile has amassed more than 575,000 likes and has more than 25,000 followers.

In the video, Parker points to his beard and haircut in the photo, smiling as he says people aren’t going to believe they allowed a first sergeant to have a beard.

As of May 16, the April 30 video has more than 87,000 views.

“Somebody in real life is gonna see that picture on their wall and gonna be pissed the fuck off,” Parker said in the video.

Soon after the online post, Parker said, he was called into the battalion sergeant major’s office, who informed him that higher-ups outside the chain of command alerted him to the video. All the battalion sergeant major told Parker was that it was a “two-star on the other side of the world” and someone in the Engineer Regiment, according to Parker.

Parker received a written reprimand for online misconduct, specifically for what was described as taunting in his video. His punishment was to stop posting on social media in uniform and teach a class on online misconduct to staff sergeants and above.

He disagreed but understood the command’s perspective.

What came next blindsided him.

The battalion sergeant major told him he also needed to cut his hair, fix his beard, and retake his command photo.

Parker was specifically told his beard wasn’t in regulation.

Parker said no one likes beards in the Army, but if you have one, you must abide by ambiguous, sometimes confusing guidelines. For instance, Parker said, you can grow your beard out, but you can’t line it up, or shape the beard.

“I would like to know who was on the other side of the phone call,” Parker told Army Times. “I truly don’t think it was the battalion sergeant major’s choice.”

“The 25th Infantry Division fully supports soldiers who require a shaving profile or request a religious exemption in accordance with Army policy and regulations. We encourage all of our soldiers to use the proper process for these profiles and exemptions and ask that our leaders continue to educate their formations,” said 25th Infantry Division spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Barth in a written statement.

Neither Barth nor the command provided any further responses to Army Times queries regarding Parker’s claims.

A day later, Parker was ordered to report to the division sergeant major. On his way into the meeting, he said he saw the battalion sergeant major leaving.

The division sergeant major reassured him that everything was okay.

“I see nothing wrong with your video. It was not wrong. Your hair is good, your beard is good. He appreciated me for advocating for people with shaving profiles,” Parker said the division sergeant major told him.

Parker told the division sergeant major that when he officially became a first sergeant, he wanted to be allowed to continue posting on social media. The division sergeant major assured Parker that he could, said Parker.

Parker figured that since the battalion sergeant major had spoken to the division sergeant major before Parker spoke to him, the whole ordeal was over.

He uploaded another TikTok video after the meeting on May 4 about how he was glad he got reported. In it, he says it gave him an opportunity to talk to the division sergeant major about issues with getting promotions for individuals with shaving profiles. He also says the division sergeant major commended him for shining a light on the issue.

“They reported me, thought they was gonna take me down, but they brung me up,” Parker said in the video.

Afterward, Parker was summoned to speak with the battalion commander and battalion sergeant major.

They revoked the company first sergeant position completely.

Instead, they reassigned him as the Division Engineer Noncommissioned Officer In Charge.

Despite the emotional highs and lows of the past few weeks, Parker said he was in good spirits and that he didn’t take it personally, pointing to his past service record.

Parker said he’s served in the Army for 18 years. He also said he’s had four deployments, one in a first sergeant billet while holding the rank of sergeant first class; won noncommissioned officer of the year at a brigade level; served as a subterranean demolition instructor; an Advanced Individual Training instructor, teaching privates engineering and demolition; as a sapper instructor; and was the recipient of a de Fleury Medal, which identifies excellence in Army engineering.

Parker said his decision to wear his beard proudly, despite ongoing stigmas, goes back to an interaction he had several years ago with a private who asked Parker if he was treated differently because of his beard.

Parker said the young soldier looked hopeless and said his life was hell in his unit because of his shaving profile.

After that, Parker said he decided he wasn’t going to be afraid of how others perceived him. He said he thought one thing walking away that day.

“Fuck that, I’m rocking my beard.”

Riley Ceder is an editorial fellow at Military Times, where he covers breaking news, criminal justice and human interest stories. He previously worked as an investigative practicum student at The Washington Post, where he contributed to the ongoing Abused by the Badge investigation.

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