| United States | 2 April 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Beard must be rolled and tied to a length not to exceed two inches while in garrison.
This is one of the instructions given to US Army Captain Simratpal Singh who has won the right to continue serving on active duty while maintaining his uncut hair and beard, and wearing the turban.
Capt Simratpal, who sued the US military in March, has served with distinction for the US army in Afghanistan.
The decision on the “religious accommodation” for Capt Simratpal was related in a two-page letter from US Assistant Army Secretary Debra Wada dated 30 March 2016.
Among others, the letter outlines the colour of the turban he is allowed to wear and that the ‘beard must be rolled and tied to a length not to exceed two inches while in garrison’.
In the letter, it is stated that the Army intends to gather information to develop uniform standards for religious accommodations.
“I have considered your request for a religious accommodation to permit you to wear a beard, turban , and uncut hair in observance of your Sikh faith, along with the recommendations of your chain of command.
“I grant you the request for an exception to Army personal appearance and grooming standards, subject to the limitations described below,” writes Wada.
After years of cutting his hair and shaving his face, Simratpal was finally granted a temporary accommodation in December. Wada ordered tests in March to determine whether Capt Simratpal could safely wear a helmet and gas mask if he had a turban, uncut hair and a beard. Thursday’s decision by the Army states that Singh will not have to reapply for accommodation in the future, reports The Huffington Post.
In a press release quoted in the same report, Capt Simratpal said: “My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream. My faith, like many of the soldiers I work with, is an integral part of who I am. I am thankful that I no longer have to make the choice between faith and service to our nation.”
In the letter from the Department of the Army, Wada said the army intends to develop a clear uniform standards applicable to soldiers who have received a religious accommodation due to the ‘Army’s strong interest in maintaining good order and discipline’. See letter here.
“Until such standards are published, you may wear a black turban (or under turban, as appropriate) with the Army Service Uniform (ASU), the Army Physical Fitness Uniform, and the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). While wearing ACU outdoors, you may wear a turban (or under turban, as appropriate) of a matching camouflage pattern,” said Wada.
“Unless your duties, position or assignment require you to wear the Army Combat Helmet (ACM) or other protective gear, you are not required to wear military headgear in addition to your turban.
“Your beard must be rolled and tied to a length not to exceed two inches while in garrison and a length not to exceed one inch while in the field, during physical training, or in a deployed environment not covered by paragraph 5 below. Your hair may not fall over your ears or eyebrows or touch the collar of your uniform. You may display your rank on your turban, provided you remove the rank in circumstances where military headgear is not customarily won.”
The memorandum was sent to the Commanding General of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Commander of the 249th Engineer Battalion based in Fort Belvoir.
In 2014, the U.S. military began taking steps to give individual troops greater freedom to wear turbans, head scarfs, yarmulkes and other religious clothing with their uniforms.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Capt Simratpal said: “In a political context where minorities are being marginalized and attacked routinely, it is critical that our nation’s largest institutions and employers — like the U.S. military — show the country that America embraces diversity,” Simran Jeet Singh, the Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition, told The Huffington Post.
The Sikh Coalition seeks to end the ban against Sikhs serving in the military with their articles of faith (e.g., turbans, unshorn hair/beards), it said in a FAQ on its military campaign.
“Currently, observant Sikhs must cut their hair, shave their beards, and remove their turbans to serve. Since 2009, the Sikh Coalition has obtained individual exceptions for three observant Sikhs with specialized skills to serve in the U.S. Army. Although we cracked open the door, we are still fighting to change the military’s presumptive policy, which continues to bar observant Sikhs from serving,” it adds.
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