July 16, 2006:
British troops operating in Afghanistan have received a gift (of sorts) from the brass. When they are out on operations, they don't have to shave. In effect, they can grow a beard. There is actually a reason for this, and it has to do with the belief that, since Afghans equate beards with manliness, bearded British soldiers will, well, appear more manly to Afghans. This, it is believed, will make Afghans more willing to cooperate with British troops. That, in addition to the large rifles the squaddies (Brit for "G.I.") carry in one hand, and various goodies (as gifts) carried in the other, brought with them to these encounters. On the down side, the troops have to shave once they get back to anything resembling a base area. Before the 1930s, British troops were allowed, with permission from their commander, to grow a beard. Since then, the only soldier in the battalion allowed a beard was the pioneer (combat engineer) sergeant. Tradition and all that. In French battalions, the pioneer sergeants wear aprons.