Army Makes First-Ever Exemption for Soldier to Grow Beard & Long Hair: Here’s Why

by Josh Lanier

There are few things more associated with the US Army than the high and tight haircut. But that branch of the military is making an exception for one soldier because of his Christian faith.

Sgt. Jacob DiPietro of the Florida Army Reserve’s 489th Transportation requested the exemption after he took a Nazarite vow from the Old Testament in the Bible. The passage in the Book of Numbers states that “during the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head,” according to Task & Purpose.

After two years of back and forth with his superiors, Sgt. DiPietro received word this week that he can grow out his hair and beard.

“In observance with your Christian faith, you may wear uncut hair in accordance with Army uniform and grooming standards provided in Army Regulation (AR) 670-1,” said Lieutenant General Gary M. Brito, the head of Army personnel, in a memo to DiPietro.

“You may grow your hair in accordance with the standards for long hair set forth in AR 670-1.”

The Army updated its regulations in 2017 to make it easier for soldiers to request religious exemptions. But Sgt. DiPietro is the first Christian to receive one, as most denominations do not have specific restrictions on hair. Though, the Army has allowed many Sikhs, Muslims, and even Norse pagans to grow beards or keep their hair long because of their faith.

Sgt. DiPietro joined the military in 2010 when he was 18 after seeing the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. But he wasn’t a Nazarite Christian at the time. He said he turned to his faith during a dark time in his personal life.

“I noticed that by praying, I found strength,” he said. “By finding strength, I was able to keep fighting these personal battles of mine.”

Sgt. DiPietro Spent Month Crafting Request to Army

Sgt. Jacob DiPietro spent several months researching and going through Army regulations before submitting his request for his religious exemption in November 2019.

He worried that if he was wrong “on anything, down to the periods at the ends of the sentences, the Army was going to use that as a reason to deny my request,” he told Task and Purpose.

The Army returned his initial request because of a formatting issue. His second attempt was successful, though short-lived. He received a memo from Brig. Gen. Stephen Rutner, commander of the Army Reserve deployment support command, approving his request. However, he received a letter soon after from the Army saying Rutner didn’t have the authority to grant such a request.

Sgt. DiPietro said he wasn’t deterred. But time was a factor. He had vowed not to God not to cut his hair but the military was going to require him to do so without an exemption. He reached to his Congressman and the Pentagon for help last year. Finally, after two years of back and forth, he received word — actual approval this time — that he would be able to keep his vow.