Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Army Grants Religious Exemptions For Beards, Turbans, And Hijabs
The Army has made it easier for Sikhs and observers of other religions to serve in uniform while upholding the tenets of their faiths by simplifying the process to receive a religious appearance accommodation.
Brigade-level commanders now must grant religious accommodations to any soldier seeking to wear a religiously mandated beard, turban or Muslim hijab while in uniform with only a few exceptions, Army Secretary Eric Fanning wrote Tuesday in a memorandum. Previously such uniform exemptions had to be approved by the secretary.
“The soldier’s brigade-level commander will approve a request for a religious accommodation …unless the commander determines the request is not based on a sincerely held religious belief, or identifies a specific, concrete hazard that is not specifically addressed in this directive and that cannot be mitigated by reasonable measures,” Fanning wrote, noting the new policy would be added to Army Regulation 670-1, which defines the Army uniform appearance standards.
The Army has granted several Sikh soldiers temporary appearance waivers in recent years to wear neatly groomed unshorn beards and hair under a turban while serving in uniform. Those waivers were applied on a case-by-case basis, and most of them were granted only after the soldiers filed lawsuits seeking their uniform exemptions.
The new accommodations will be made permanent for soldiers throughout their careers once granted by their brigade-level commander, Fanning wrote in the memo issued in the final weeks of his tenure.
The Sikh Coalition, which helped represent Sikh soldiers seeking exemptions in recent years, was pleased with Fanning’s ruling.
“While we still seek a permanent policy change that enables all religious minorities to freely serve without exception, we are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for religious tolerance and diversity by our nation’s largest employer,” said Harsimran Kaur, the coalition’s legal director.
Sikhs fought in the Army during both World Wars, the Korean War and in Vietnam, but few Sikhs have served in recent decades because of a 1981 policy mandating they cut their hair and beards.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that emerged in what is now India and Pakistan in the 15th century. Sikhs believe resistance to oppression is a religious duty, and military service was considered the highest honor for young Sikh men.
Army officials have said previously their main concerns with allowing Sikhs and other soldiers to wear beards is the interference facial hair can have with properly wearing a gas mask. Nonetheless, the Army has granted more than 50,000 permanent medical exemptions since 2007 to allow soldiers to wear beards. Some special operations commanders have also authorized their troops to wear beards and long hair in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In his memo, Fanning acknowledged some advancements in gas mask design have shown promise in protecting individuals with beards, but he added “further research, development, testing, and evaluation are necessary to identify masks that are capable of operational use [by bearded soldiers] and can be adequately maintained in field conditions.”
Last year, Army Capt. Simratpal Singh, one of the Sikh soldiers granted a temporary appearance waiver, told Stars and Stripes that his beard had not caused him any problems with wearing a gas mask.
The West Point-educated veteran of the war in Afghanistan said he had passed standard gas mask and helmet evaluations with his unit at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, including going through a tear gas chamber.
Sikh soldiers who wear unshorn beards and hair must wear them in “a neat and conservative manner that presents a well-groomed appearance.” They must role their beards to a two-inch length limit in garrison and a one-inch length for field training, physical training or when deployed. Their hair cannot fall their ears or eyebrows and must not touch the collar of their uniforms.
“An Army with Sikhs is an even stronger Army,” said Eric Baxter of Becket Law, which represented several Sikh soldiers. “Sikhs have a history of heroic service in militaries around the world — including in the United States until about thirty years ago. Now their strength will be added back to the Army without the threat of forced shaves and haircuts.”
©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday recovered the remains of individuals from a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan and was in the process of confirming their identities, U.S. and Afghan officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft had crashed in the province of Ghazni, but disputed claims by the Taliban militant group that they brought it down.
The US government is letting Marine veteran Austin Tice languish in a Syrian prison, according to his mother
The mother of Marine veteran Austin Tice told reporters on Monday that a top U.S. official is refusing to give permission for a meeting with the Syrian government to negotiate the release of her son, who went missing near Damascus in 2012.
"Apparently, somewhere in the chain, there is a senior U.S. government official who is hesitating or stalling," Debra Tice reportedly said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Debra Tice said she is not certain who this senior official is. She also praised those in government who are working to get her son back.
A retired Navy SEAL whose war crimes trial made international news has launched a video attack on former SEAL teammates who accused him of murder, shooting civilians and who testified against him at his San Diego court-martial in June.
In a three-minute video posted to his Facebook page and Instagram account Monday, retired Chief Special Operator Edward Gallagher, 40, referred to some members of his former troops as "cowards" and highlighted names, photos and — for those still on active duty — their duty status and current units, something former SEALs say places those men — and the Navy's mission — in jeopardy.
The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.
The network, which the Air Force is calling the advanced battle management system (ABMS), would function a bit like the artificial intelligence construct Cortana from Halo, who identifies enemy ships and the nearest assets to destroy them at machine speed, so all the fleshy humans need to do is give a nod of approval before resuming their pipe-smoking.
An F-15 is rocking a WWII paint job to honor a B-17 pilot who gave his life to save a wounded crewman
An F-15C Eagle is sporting a badass World War II-era paint job in honor of a fallen bomber pilot who gave everything to ensure his men survived a deadly battle.