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Sikhs challenge US Army’s ban on turbans, beards

All Posts  June 14 2009
 — By CJ Grisham

The Sikh Coalition is attempting to convince the Army to allow two Sikh officers to wear religious headgear and not be forced their beards.

Military service is in Capt. Kamaljit Singh Kalsi’s blood.

His father and grandfather were part of India’s Air Force. His great-grandfather served in the British Royal Army. So when U.S. Army recruiters talked to him during his first year of medical school, he readily signed up.

But his plans to go on active duty in July are now on hold. An Army policy from the 1980s that regulates the wearing of religious items would mean he would need to shave his beard and remove the turban he wears in accordance with his religious precepts.

Kalsi and another Sikh man with the same concerns, Second Lt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, are the centerpieces of an advocacy campaign launched by the Sikh Coalition as it tries to persuade the Army to let them serve without sacrificing their articles of faith.

“I’m an American, there’s no reason why I can’t serve,” Kalsi, 32, said.

And there is no reason you can’t serve, Mr. Kalsi – provided you comply with Army regulations, customs and courtesies. The turbans your religion wears do not conform to the Army’s uniform policies, which state:

(2) Soldiers may wear religious headgear while in uniform if the headgear meets the following criteria.
(a) It must be subdued in color (black, brown, green, dark or navy blue, or a combination of these colors).
(b) It must be of a style and size that can be completely covered by standard military headgear, and it cannot interfere with the proper wear or functioning of protective clothing or equipment.
(c) The headgear cannot bear any writing, symbols, or pictures.
(d) Personnel will not wear religious headgear in place of military headgear when military headgear is required (outdoors, or indoors when required for duties or ceremonies).

The Sikhs are trying to make this out to be an equality issue, but it’s more than that. It’s a standards and uniformity issue. When wearing the uniform, all Soldiers should look alike – gender issues notwithstanding. It’s also a safety and readiness issue. There is no way for the chemical mask to seal against a bearded face. That places him and his troops in danger if they come under a chemical or biological attack. And if they decide to make him non-deployable due to his religious beliefs, someone else has to go in his place.

The Army should stand by its own regulation. Otherwise, it risks credibility with ANY uniform issue.

(17) Readers Comments

  1. I have to say I disagree with you on this CJ.

    In my country, we have quite a significant number of Sikhs. Some of them are even pilots or commandos. Our policy, is that dark green turbans are issued for the Army, blue for the Air Force, etc. They take part in parades and the like with no issue at all.

    In our case, they accept the risk of not being able to fully seal a gas mask and readily go on missions when they are posted to the elite vocations and such.

    • Isaac, that would never fly in this country. Even if the Sikhs agreed to the risk of not sealing a mask, if anything were to happen to them because of it, the government would get sued into oblivion!

      • Hmm, thats a good point CJ, I guess the culture and the attitude of the people is quite a big factor in this one.

  2. CJ,
    I don’t agree with you. I served with a Sihk back in the early 80s. He was an MI LT and he didn’t have any trouble with his mask or any other headgear. I don’t know why, but he didn’t. His mask worked fine in the CS chamber and he was an excellent soldier. It should at least be looked at more closely instead of rejected out of hand.
    They are Americans and deserve the opportunity to serve as much as anyone else.
    Respectfully, Robin

  3. I agree that its a matter of uniformity (aside from the safety issues that you mentioned CJ). The military works because of the “sameness”. When you start allowing this one to wear a beard and turban, then you have to allow that one to wear a robe and slippers and pretty soon you have a mixed matched rag tag looking mess where no one feels squared away. And the Army is not about individuals. The Army is about the whole made up by individuals who if they want to stand out may do brave and extraordinary things and quite often do. The rules were there when they signed up. If they didnt like them they shouldnt have signed up.

    We have become way too PC in this country, trying to bend over backwards to accommodate the religious and political beliefs of one or two to the deference to the whole. The incident about a year ago at the Tyson Chicken plant where the Labor Day Holiday was being thrown over for a Muslim one is a perfect example. The loss of the words, “Merry Christmas” from the American vocabulary is another.

    It has to stop some where and I for one think the Army should stick to its guns and not break policy.

    • Sue05,
      From personal experience in my country, Sikhs have been in service for longer than the time we gained independence. We have maintained our uniforms and dress code while allowing them to wear turbans and keep facial hair.

      Although as CJ mentioned, the libtards will still complain no matter what stand the Army takes. The main problem I see, as you have mentioned, is that they never have enough of getting their way. So of course culture and attitude towards the government play a big part.

      But for this issue, I have to disagree with current policy.

      • The rules were there when they signed up. If they didnt like them they shouldnt have signed up. Again, they were NOT drafted. This is a VOLUNTEER service and there are rules. They should live by them or feel free to get out.

        • The rules weren’t there when the older generation was serving, that’s why they were allowed to keep their beard and turban. I agree about the helmets not fitting, but you could tie the turban thinner to fit a gas mask.

  4. Isaac, I think you missed my point. While in your thinking because it works for your country, and has worked from time immemorial apparently, we are talking about two individuals wanting a system that has worked in OUR country, to change for them. It is not the fashion or the norm in OUR Army, while it might be in yours. Why should we have to change the rules JUST to be PC for two individuals when it would break the uniformity necessary in the Army. They were NOT drafted. This is a VOLUNTEER service and there are rules. They should live by them.

    • I suppose you’re right. In my country all males are conscripted so I guess special rules have to be made and we have a significant number of them.

      Still, no matter what decision the Army makes I trust it will work for all the servicemen and women.

    • I think Sue’s point is well taken in the fact that they volunteered and weren’t drafted. It might be similiar if I volunteered for British service and then demanded coffee instead of tea in my rations.
      I knew Jewish guys who wore their yarmulkes under their military headgear. It wasn’t decried because it didn’t interfere with the safety items CJ speaks of and uniformity wasn’t an issue.
      NY-David

  5. Yes, Sue, I do agree with you, on occasion.
    NY-David

    • And I with you David!

  6. I respect all religions and believe all have the right to worship how they see fit. With that being said I currently serve and knew exactly what was expected of me and I abide by that. They to know what is expected of them and by all rules and regulations set by appropriate service should have to follow same like there other brothers in arms. That is what holds this military together and sets us aside from the 9/10 of society. Give a mouse a cookie and he expects milk. (so will the other mice)

  7. Maybe the doctor should consider private practice – seems as though his customs don’t go with our rules!

  8. So…..does that mean EVERYONE gets to wear turbans and not shave?

    If I worship Babbaganush the lord of Destruction, can I wear a giant mohawk and thunderdome style shoulder pads?

    If not, it’s BS and has no place in the US army.

  9. Isaac, I think you missed my point. While in your thinking because it works for your country, and has worked from time immemorial apparently, we are talking about two individuals wanting a system that has worked in OUR country, to change for them. It is not the fashion or the norm in OUR Army, while it might be in yours. Why should we have to change the rules JUST to be PC for two individuals when it would break the uniformity necessary in the Army. They were NOT drafted. This is a VOLUNTEER service and there are rules. They should live by them.

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