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Behind The Fight To Get The Marines To Update Their Grooming Standards

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to tell you about a moment in hair history that came earlier this week. The Marines have decided to allow women to wear their hair in locks while in uniform. The Marines are the first branch of the U.S. military to do so. The rule change, which also allows two-strand twists, is the latest change resulting from a Pentagon review ordered by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014, after new grooming standards issued that year were criticized for excluding hairstyles commonly worn by black women. The new standards for the Marines were championed by Staff Sgt. Cherie Wright, and she joins us now from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Staff Sgt. Wright, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CHERIE WRIGHT: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So you submitted the recommendation letter with these proposals to your chain of command. What inspired you to seek these changes?

WRIGHT: It was basically a personal experience. I've been in the Marine Corps for about 10 years now. And ever since I got in, I've had to deal with managing my hair in the Marine Corps.

MARTIN: For those are not aware of what these hairstyles are, there is actually a YouTube video that explains in very specific terms what is permitted.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

WRIGHT: Entwined - entwined simply means to wrap around or together - braids, twists and locks are the only entwined hairstyles authorized for wear in uniform.

MARTIN: I think you are featured in this video, are you not?

WRIGHT: Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: Now, did you come up with the phrase entwined?

WRIGHT: I did.

MARTIN: You did come up with that?

WRIGHT: Yes, ma'am. I had to break it down because a lot of the leadership that I was speaking with, they didn't - it all looks very similar to them, so...

MARTIN: In your recommendation, you stated for some this change is culturally liberating, has financial benefits and is simply convenient. Talk about that, if you would.

WRIGHT: I would say that a lot of females in the military, they end up altering their hair in order to adjust to the current standards that are set in their branch. And a lot of that is catered to straighter hair. So a lot of people end up straightening their hair thermally and chemically. And it also had to do with wearing synthetic modifications, which includes wigs or extensions.

MARTIN: What do you think persuaded your command?

WRIGHT: I would say what persuaded them is the information that I brought to them. They were able to see not just the visual, but they were able to see - they were able to actually see, yes, that it can be neat and it is professional.

MARTIN: How does it make you feel to know that you were a part of this change?

WRIGHT: It's a very humbling experience. It was an idea for a good year. And it wasn't, you know, until I got tired of wearing my wigs that I was wearing, because I wore a wig over my locks that I decided to do something about it. So I was truly grateful that my leadership was willing to open up their minds to listen to the proposal and actually take in the information that I gave. So I just want to thank the Marine Corps Uniform Board and my leaders who were open and willing.

MARTIN: That's Marine Staff Sgt. Cherie Wright. She was the force behind a new change in policy that allows women in uniform to now wear locks as well as two-strand twists. And she joined us from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Staff Sgt. Wright, thank you so much for speaking with us. Happy holidays to you.

WRIGHT: Thank you. Happy holidays to you as well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.