In a rare accommodation, the U.S. Army has allowed a Sikh soldier to temporarily keep his beard and wear his turban while serving in an active combat position.
This is an important exception and the right move by the U.S. Army. The move sends a strong message to the world that United States supports religious freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
Captain Simratpal Singh, 27, had to cut his hair on his first day at the United States Military Academy at West Point nearly 10 years ago since the Army would not allow a soldier with long hair or a beard, a report in the New York Times said.
Last week, however, the Army finally granted Singh, who led a platoon of combat engineers who cleared roadside bombs in Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star, a religious accommodation under which he is allowed to grow his beard and wrap his hair in a turban.
“It is wonderful. I had been living a double life, wearing a turban only at home,” he told the Times. “My two worlds have finally come back together. A true Sikh is supposed to stand out, so he can defend those who cannot defend themselves,” he said, adding that he was prepared to sue if the accommodation was not made permanent.
Currently, three Sikh-Americans are serving the US military — Major Kamaljeet Singh, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan and Corporal Simranpreet Singh Lamba.