Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Jessica Sims has worn her hair in dreadlocks since 2005, but it wasn’t until recently that it became an issue. In an interview with the Navy Times, Sims said that will be honorably discharged after refusing to trim her locks. Sims commonly wears her locks in a tight bun, and officials stated that her locks were out of regulation and that her bun was too bulky to be worn with a gas mask.
Sims refutes that they were a hinder to a gas mask.
“For the past couple weeks, not knowing what the Navy was going to do, if they were going to move forward with the discharge or keep me in, had me in a little limbo,” Sims said in a phone interview with USA Today. “In the back of my head I knew that they weren’t going to change, so it was more of just waiting for the date.”
According to Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, Chief of Naval Personnel spokesman, Sims will be discharged for disobeying a lawful order. Earlier this year Sims was ordered to either straighten her hair, or wear a wig.
Just last week, the Department of Defense announced it would make dreadlocks, cornrows, twisted braids and other hairstyles popular among African-American women more acceptable after a review of its policies.
Sims said that her hair had never been a problem until she checked in at Great Lakes. Before her move to boot camp, she had spent seven years as an instructor at Naval Medicine Training Support Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, The Basic School at Quantico, Va., and Field Medical Service School at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
She contended that hair regulations are biased against the natural hairstyles of many African-American women. The Navy’s uniform regulations specifically ban “widely spaced individual hanging locks,” but Sims said that because hers are closely spaced and worn in a bun, they don’t violate the rules.
“I don’t think I should be told that I have to straighten my hair in order to be within what they think the regulations are, and I don’t think I should have to cover it up with a wig,” she said.
The Navy said her chain of command gave her multiple opportunities to cut her hair, but Sims said that amounted to shaving off her locks and wearing a wig. Her discharge came down to disobeying her command’s order to shear off her locks. In addition, Servello said, there were some safety concerns to consider.
“As depicted in the photos that Petty Officer Sims provided, you can clearly see the size of the bun that she wears her hair in is out of regulation,” he said. “Bulky hair makes it difficult to wear headgear and safety equipment like a gas mask, hard hat or firefighting ensemble properly.”
Sims said she always makes sure her bun protrudes less than two inches from her head, per regulation, and that she’d never had a problem wearing safety helmets or gas masks.
Sims stated that she doesn’t have any regrets with not complying with regulations. Today, Sims starts classes at Loyola University in Chicago and plans on majoring in biology as a pre-med student.
“I look at it like this: God only closes one door to open another for greater things, and I am blessed and highly favored,” she said.