Cool or Fool? The history and current state of the “Tactical Beard”

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

Of all the taboos that plague the conventional military, none stand out more than that of facial hair. Occasionally sported by those of Special Operations and (now) stringent religious backgrounds, facial hair has become a coveted item that is almost absurdly common in former military and civilian ‘tactical’ circles in an attempt to look “manly” and “tactical”.

your results may, uh... vary.

your results may, uh… vary


Beards were a common sight in the 1800s, particularly the Civil War. Union and Confederate soldiers squared off in American pastures and cities- brother vs brother, north vs south, beard vs beard.

Tactical Beard 2

Eventually, chemical weapons came along with the horrors of the First World War and with it the end of beards in most major militaries, especially the United States. That was, until a curious incident in the early 1940s, where in an attempt to raise morale in the Pacific Theatre, Commanders facing the ever-closer advancing threat of the Japanese military (who would eventually kill or capture most, if not all of these men, forcing the survivors into squalid and often deadly conditions as prisoners of war until 1944) held a beard-growing contest.

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The hilarious calm before the bummer storm.

Following WWII, beards once again disappeared for a long spell- with one exception: The Navy.

The 1970s were golden times for sailors, who littered the album of service memories with some fantastic- and not so fantastic facial hair. This practice ceased in 1984, with the reintroduction of “No Fun” policies.

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It was… a transitional time for both the military and eyewear in general.

So when did the Battle Beard craze of the 21st Century begin? Well, with Special Operations units in Iraq and Afghanistan to be precise. Once clean-shaven Special Forces troops were suddenly growing beards to blend in and earn the trust of the locals. After photos of this got out, everybody wanted a piece of the beard cake.

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The Patron Saint of the Tactical Homeless Guy Look

 Pretty soon, everyone and their mother was sporting a beard and calling themselves “operators”, giving birth to Tactical McDojos across the world faster than Catholic rabbits. Combine that with the rash of high demand (and low standards) for Private Contractors during their golden era and you have a near-endless menagerie of cookie-cutter lumberjacks with rifles from the year 2004 to present.

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Pictured: “Fred Durst” in Iraq.

Eventually, things reached critical mass- the ‘beardpocalypse’ loomed on the horizon. Enter the TBOC:

YouTube video

In case you didn’t know, they operate worldwide.

Yes, the Tactical Beard Owner’s Club. Much like lone Harley riders who team up to inadvertently annoy everyone in every town they have ever collectively driven through, “Operators” were banding together to show off their.. uh, facial hair. Much like many modern SWAT teams who wear better gear than most Special Ops teams but still can’t hit the broadside of a barn, the movement was all about the aesthetics. But seriously, who cares if you can actually hit your target, so long as you look cool right?

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All about that ‘Thin Blue Line’, not so much on the ‘Thin Blue Razor’.

Maybe the beardpocalypse will fizzle out, maybe it won’t. Although I myself can grow a beard quite well, I can only go so many days pretending to be a U-Boat commander before I end up taking clippers to the unruly real estate along my jawline, lest people confuse me for the old hobo that hops into town on the Santa Fe line. While some guys can pull it off, some need to quit trying so hard. But hey, this is America. You can grow whatever you want, as long as you don’t have to report to anyone.

What does the future hold for tactical beards? Only time will tell. Be it the return of the Byzantine look or an apocalyptic future where we all have to get a good seal on respirators just to breathe, I for one welcome the stubbly uncertainty of the future…

…but pack a razor, just in case.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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