Spc. Cesilia Valdovinos. Photo courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
A Muslim soldier is preparing to sue the U.S. Army over allegations that her command sergeant major forced her to remove her hijab.
Spc. Cecilia Valdovinos — a soldier with the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division who converted to Islam in 2016 — was granted permission to wear her hijab while in uniform by her brigade commander, Col. David Zinn in June 2018.
But she told Yahoo News it was quickly met with "'extremely hateful' behavior."
"I got called a 'terrorist.' I got called 'ISIS.' I hear comments that I'm the reason why 9/11 happened," Valdovinos told Yahoo. She filed a complaint with the military's Equal Opportunity Office early last month after Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya, according to the Army Times, forced her to remove her hijab in front of the other soldiers, saying that her hair was not done to regulation standards underneath it.
"She must have been born on krypton" in order to see Voldovinos' hair through her hijab, said Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is helping with Voldovinos' case.
Weinstein said in a separate statement that "even if this CSM did have X-Ray vision, our client's hair was neatly tucked beneath her under-cap, completely in accord with Army appearance regulations. This under-cap is part and parcel of her prior Army-approved hijab garments."
Valdovinos filed a complaint with the Military Equal Opportunity Office which, according to Yahoo, found her claims "unsubstantiated."
She was later demoted from sergeant to specialist, though Zinn said in a statement he could not get into the specifics about the cause of Voldovinos' demotion. The Army "has not taken any adverse actions against Spc. Valdovinos in response to the wear of any religious garment, her equal opportunity complaint, or the resulting media attention," Zinn told Task & Purpose.
"The senior non-commissioned officer acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army Regulations," Zinn added.
Army Capt. Brooke Smith, who was reportedly present during Valdinovos' and Montoya's exchange, told Army Times that "[u]pon removing her hijab it was evident her hair was completely down ... CSM Montoya told her to get her hair back in regulation and not let it happen again. At no point did CSM Montoya touch the soldier or yell at her (at all or within earshot of other soldiers)."
Weinstein told Task & Purpose that Montoya approached Valdovinos a second time "after the story went viral," and asked again if her hair was within regulations. Valdovinos replied that it was, according to Weinstein, to which Montoya replied, "I don't believe you," and told her to go into the restroom to fix her hair. He said that Valdovinos was advised by other soldiers who witnessed the interaction to "go...and pretend to fix her hair."
Weinstein called Valdovinos' case a "textbook case of racism," and said MRFF plans to "aggressively make the Army pay for this racism...and harassment."
The Army started allowing religious exemptions for hijabs, turbans, and beards in 2017, saying that brigade commanders had to make religious accommodations unless the commander believes the requested exemption "is not based on a sincerely held religious belief, or identifies a specific, concrete hazard ... that cannot be mitigated by reasonable measures."
"As a brigade our leaders and myself will continue to support every Soldier's right to file a complaint or to express their grievances openly, freely, and without fear of reprisal when they feel they have been treated unfairly," Zinn said in a statement.
"We take pride in the diversity of our Soldier teams who work together as professionals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation."
The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.
Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).
This photo taken on Oct. 7, 2018, shows a billboard that reads "The State Central Navy Testing Range" near residential buildings in the village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia. The Aug. 8, 2019, explosion of a rocket engine at the Russian navy's testing range just outside Nyonoksa led to a brief spike in radiation levels and raised new questions about prospective Russian weapons. (AP Photo/Sergei Yakovlev)
It's been more than a week since a mysterious Russian nuclear accident roughly 600 miles north of Moscow and only the Kremlin and those killed know what happened.
What is known is something exploded on Aug. 8 at a naval weapons testing range near the village of Nyonoksa. The Russian government's official account of the accident has changed several times since then, but the country's weather agency recently confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times greater than normal after the blast.
Top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families from a new immigration rule that would make it far easier to deny green cards to low-income immigrants, according to documents obtained by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Department of Defense, on the other hand, worked throughout 2018 to minimize the new policy's impact on military families.
As a result, the regulation, which goes into effect in October, applies just as strictly to veterans and their families as it does to the broader public, while active-duty members of the military and reserve forces face a relaxed version of the rule.
The U.S. military conducted its first flight test of a conventional ground-launched cruise missile in a test that would have been banned prior to the recent collapse of a Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement.
The missile was launched on Sunday from a testing site on San Nicolas Island in California. "The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight," the Pentagon explained in an emailed statement, adding that "data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense's development of future intermediate-range capabilities."