Following the Defense Department’s guidance for troops to cover their faces when personnel are out in public or when social distancing is difficult to maintain, the armed services have begun issuing new rules for how service members wear the new accoutrements.
All the services said that personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirators or surgical masks, must be reserved for use by those in medical settings. Service members were also encouraged to view the Center for Disease Control’s guidance for face coverings, which advised that coverings include multiple layers and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage, among other tips.
Service members can also expect gate guards to require the lowering of their masks to verify identification.
Soldiers are authorized to wear the neck gaiter and other cloth items, such as bandanas and scarves, as face coverings, Army headquarters said in a statement Monday.
Soldiers are not, however, allowed to fashion face coverings from their Army Combat Uniforms or other materials that have been chemically-treated.
Soldiers, their family members and Army civilian employees and contractors should follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines on the use of cloth face coverings, the Army said in the briefest of the announcements.
Any cloth items worn as face coverings, to include neck gaiters, neck warmers and balaclavas, should be functional, clean, cover the mouth and nose, and be maintained in compliance with current Air Force instructions, according to an Air Force news release.
Commanders will be allowed to decide where mission safety requires airmen to deviate from that guidance, “for example when the cloth face covering could interfere with other facial gear,” the release reads.
Airmen should keep their masks “conservative, professional and in keeping with dignity and respect," the release added. But units are allowed to deviate from uniformity until issued items are fully available.
Air Force civilian employees are encouraged to use face coverings as well. If a commander mandates the coverings for civilians, however, that commander must provide them on their own or offer a uniform allowance.
Sailors may wear any face covering that adheres to the CDC guidance so long as it’s conservative in appearance and not offensive, according to a Naval administrative notice.
Face coverings must fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, cover from the nose to chin, be secured with ties or ear loops, preferably include multiple layers of fabric if the material is cloth and allow for breathing without restriction.
“Until official uniform face coverings are produced and implemented, personnel are authorized to wear medical or construction type masks, or other cloth coverings such as bandanas, scarfs, etc.,” the Navy said, adding that non-uniformed personnel are advised to follow the same guidance.
Marines are being encouraged to wear face coverings in shared residence locations, to include barracks and family housing, to the extent that it’s practical, according to a Marine Corps administrative notice.
Marines must keep their face coverings “conservative in appearance, not offensive, and conform to CDC guidance,” the Corps said. Acceptable garments include balaclavas, neck gaiters, uniform green t-shirts and other types of coverings that shield the prescribed area from nose to chin and present a neat and professional military appearance.
“Face coverings with demeaning or derogatory logos, profanity, racist, sexist, printed wording, eccentric designs, offensive script, wrongful drug abuse, dissident or protest activity, or imagery, are not authorized,” the Corps said.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.