Almost 10 years ago at the US Military Academy at West Point, Simratpal Singh was made to have his hair cut regardless that Singh has grown up a Sikh and had never cut his hair or beard. He persisted however, with his intent to follow his faith that inspired him to join the Army. During the course of his career he led a platoon of combat engineers who cleared roadside bombs in Afghanistan and he was awarded the Bronze Star.
Last week, the Army finally granted now Capt, Singh, 27, a religious accommodation that allows him to grow his beard and wrap his hair in his turban. A delighted Capt Singh said it is wonderful as he had been living a double life and now his worlds have become one again.
This is the first time in decades that the military has granted a religious accommodation for a beard to an active duty combat soldier. But at this stage it is only temporary, lasting for a month, while the Army decides whether to give permanent status to Singh’s exception.
For years the Army has argued that beards in the ranks, religious or not, threatened the foundations of military order and discipline. Though the US military has become increasingly inclusive, allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly, and women to serve in combat roles, it has held a stiff stance on uniforms and grooming standards.
During leave before his new assignment, Singh stopped shaving and filed for an accommodation with the help of the Sikh Coalition. He was given accommodation on a temporary basis. He has also made his own camouflage turbans to wear to his first day of work at Fort Beloir Virginia shortly, and said he hopes this shows others they can both serve their faith and serve their country.