US Army fitting present for Guru Gobind Singh birthday

| Washington, United States | 6 Jan 2016 | Asia Samachar |
LEFT: West Point graduate Capt Simratpal Singh. Right: Sketches from the 10-page directive signed by US Army Secretary Eric Fanning – PHOTO / ASIA SAMACHAR

The United States army could not have given the Sikhs a better present for the on-going 350th birth celebration of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru very much associated with valour and bravery.

On 3 Jan 2017, the US army issued a directive that requires brigade-level commanders to grant religious accommodations for hijabs, beards, and turbans with unshorn beards and hair for soldiers in all roles unless the requester’s religious belief is not sincere or if the Army identifies a specific, concrete hazard.

The directive makes it easier for Sikhs to serve with their religious articles of faith intact.

The 10-page document, signed by US Army Secretary Eric Fanning, revised army uniform and grooming policy to provide wear and appearance standards for the most commonly requested religious accommodations and revises the approval authority for future requests for religious accommodation consistent with the prescribed standards.

“Since 2009, religious accommodation requests requiring a waiver for uniform wear and grooming have largely fallen fallen into one of the three faith practices: the wear of a hijab, the wear of a beard; and the wear of a turban/patka, with uncut beard and uncut hair.

“Based on successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations, I have determined that brigade-level commanders may approve requests for these accommodations,” he said in the document entitled ‘Army Directive 2017-03 (Policy for Brigade-Level Approval of Certain Requests for Religious Accommodation’.

The new directive means that brigade-level commanders ‘will approve a request for religious accommodation consistent with the standards described’ unless the commander determines the request is not based on a sincerely held religious belief or identifies a specific hazard.

If not approved, the directive requires the commander to forward the request with the denial recommendation to the General Court-Martial Convening Authority

“For the past eight years, The Sikh Coalition has led the effort to build a ‘proof of concept’ that the Sikh articles of faith are completely compatible with our military’s safety and uniformity standards,” Amandeep Sidhu, a partner at the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery and co-founder of The Sikh Coalition, told NBC News.

“The Army’s new policy is the embodiment of the cases we presented to the Army with Major Kamal Kalsi and Major Tejdeep Rattan in 2009, bolstered by the experiences of several other clients, including West Point graduate and Bronze Star Medal recipient, Capt.
Simratpal Singh. Our Army can now fully reflect the diversity of faiths, cultures, and experiences that are woven into the fabric of our American experience and make us stronger.”

Before 1974, Sikh Americans were allowed to serve in the U.S. military with their articles of faith intact, according to The Sikh Coalition, but since 1981, stricter grooming regulations have required requests for religious accommodation on a case-by-case basis, according to the NBC News report.

In the army regulation included with the directive, it was noted that when the soldier is wearing an Advanced Combat Helmet or other protective headgear with the under-turban, the bulk of the hair will be repositioned or adjusted to ensure proper fit.


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