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 San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chris Roys)
The Navy is investigating reports that a female Marine discovered a hidden camera in one of the women's restrooms aboard the USS Arlington, an amphibious transport dock that's currently on at port in Greece, NBC News originally reported.
It's been 30 years since an explosion inside the number two gun turret on the USS Iowa killed 47 American sailors, but for Mike Carr, it still feels like yesterday.
"I knew all 47 guys inside that turret because as part of the ship's policy we had rotated between all three turrets," Carr, who served as a gunner's mate in the Iowa's aft 16-inch turret, told Task & Purpose. "We all knew each other rather intimately."
On April 19, 1989, the day of the blast, the ship was preparing for live-fire training at Vieques, Puerto Rico Naval Training Range.
Carr was wearing headphones that allowed him to hear what the crews in the other turrets were saying.
"At 10 minutes to 10 a.m., somebody came over the phones and said, 'We're having a problem, Turret 2, center gun,'" Carr recalled. "Then approximately two minutes later, I recognized Senior Chief [Reginald] Ziegler, who was the chief in charge of Turret 2, yell into the phones: 'Fire, fire, fire! Fire in center gun, turret 2. Trying to contain it.'"
Then came the blast, which was so strong that it ripped the headphones right off Carr's head.
As a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a newly minted second lieutenant, I felt well-prepared to tackle the challenges facing a junior field artillery officer in the U.S. Army. When the time came to leave the Army, however, I was much less prepared to make the transition into the yet-unknown civilian sector.
One of the primary issues facing veterans after we transition is that we lack the same sense of purpose and mission that we had with our military careers. Today, more than ever, our service members volunteer to put themselves in harm's way. They are defending our freedom across the globe and should be recognized as our country's true heroes. It's critical that employers educate veterans and provide viable options so we can make informed decisions about the rest of our lives.
The two-star general in charge of the roughly 15,000-strong 2nd Marine Division has turned micromanagement into an art form with a new policy letter ordering his Marines and sailors to cut their hair, shave their faces, and adhere to a daily schedule that he has prescribed.
In his "Policy Letter 5-19," Maj. Gen. David Furness lamented that he has noticed "a significant decline in the basic discipline" of troops he's come in contact with in the division area, which has led him to "FIX IT immediately," instead of relying on the thousands of commissioned and non-commissioned officers below him to carry out his orders.