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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Facial hair order for servicemen
Bearded RAF gunners
Four of the 14 bearded gunners
The Royal Air Force Regiment has relaxed the restriction on the growing of beards for its men in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan.

Beards are considered to be a sign of status in the country and the air force hopes the move will boost relations.

Growing a beard is an unusual order for UK servicemen as they have been traditionally expected to be clean cut.

Elements of RAF Lossiemouth's 5 Force Protection Wing (5FP) will spend six months defending Kandahar airfield.

The wing includes 51 Squadron RAF Regiment and volunteers from 2622 (Highland) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

Royal Marines have also been sporting beards during tours in Afghanistan.

Commanding Officer Squadron Leader Tony Brown said growing a beard was contrary to RAF regulations, but the wing asked permission from higher up the chain of command.

He said: "British personnel who have served in Afghanistan, particularly in the south of the country, found that a beard represents strength and virility and also age.

"When guys were out on patrol it was found that Afghans would go to the guy with the beard because they considered him to be the elder."

Cpl Roy Geddes
The threat in Afghanistan will be higher - the Taleban are more willing to take you on
Cpl Roy Geddes

Corporal Toby Box, 27, from London, said the gunners were told three weeks ago to try and grow a beard.

A parade was then held and the commanding officer selected 14 with the best growth.

He said: "We've been told that the Afghans pay attention to someone with a beard."

Cpl Box joked that some of the gunners' wives and girlfriends were not all that impressed with their partner's facial hair.

Another of the bearded gunners - Cpl Roy Geddes, 27, a father-of-three from Inverness - said he expected the situation in Kandahar province to be tougher than his previous two tours of Iraq.

He said: "The threat in Afghanistan will be higher - the Taleban are more willing to take you on."

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