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Uniform Rule May Keep Religious Americans From Military Service

Posted by on Mar. 17, 2014 at 10:14 PM
KK
  • 20 Replies

Uniform Rule May Keep Religious Americans From Military Service

Dr. Kamal Kalsi had to apply for special permission from the Department of Defense in order to keep his beard and turban while serving in the military.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Monday, 105 lawmakers from both parties sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, urging him to change a relatively obscure uniform requirement for the U.S. armed forces that some argue infringes on religious beliefs.

People who observe religions that require specific hair or dress traditions have to seek an accommodation from a superior to break the Defense Department's uniform requirements.

Dr. Kamal Kalsi was the first observant Sikh to apply for the accommodation since the rule took effect in the 1980s. As a devout Sikh, Kalsi doesn't cut his hair. He wraps his hair up in a turban and doesn't shave his beard. Keeping his hair long is an obligatory article of his Sikh faith.

Kalsi had joined the U.S. Army Reserves back in 2001, seven months before Sept. 11. He was in medical school, training to be an emergency room doctor. And like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him, he wanted to serve his country.

But when he tried to volunteer for active duty in 2009, Kalsi ran into a problem: His turban and beard broke the Department of Defense uniform and grooming rules.

"A turban and beard interfere with uniformity, possibly may interfere with unit cohesion, and may pose a safety hazard," Kalsi explains, paraphrasing the Department of Defense's argument.

To serve, he applied for the religious accommodation.

"It was an amicable process between myself, my superiors and the Army," he tells All Things Considered host Arun Rath. "But it was a pretty monster task. It took nearly 15,000 petitioners on a letter to then-Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates. It took 50 congressional signatures. It took pressure from the White House, a major law firm, then a civil rights advocate group, to get one soldier in."

Since Kalsi was given his accommodation in 2010, two other Sikhs have moved to active duty: Capt. Tejdeep Rattan is a dentist, currently serving at Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and Cpl. Simranpreet Lamba, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, is the Army's only enlisted Sikh soldier. Their review periods were "incrementally easier" than Kalsi's, but still arduous, he says.

"But the fact remains that this laborious process remains a barrier to Sikhs serving. It creates a bit of a chilling effect on those that wish to serve," Kalsi says.

He says he's talked with around 100 young Sikhs who have wanted to serve but don't know how. When they show up at the recruiter's office, they're told their turbans and beards are not a part of the uniform guidelines, and that they must be removed.

"Many, many Sikhs have such a long history of military service," Kalsi says. "In Britain, in Canada and in India, if a Sikh wants to join, they simply walk up to the recruiter's office and sign up. In the United States today, that process is broken."

The accommodation isn't permanent, either. If Kalsi or either of the other two Sikh soldiers are deployed or ask to move, they will need to reapply.

The Department of Defense has made some moves to change the policy. On Jan. 30, they released new instructions that attempted to clarify the religious exemption issue. Kalsi says that it doesn't do much to fix the situation for Sikhs and observant members of other religions who run into similar obstacles because they still face somewhat of a Catch-22.

"The army will allow you in, pending your accommodation request. But you are expected to adhere to the current guidelines while your accommodation request is pending," Kalsi says. "So Sikhs would, in essence, be required to remove their turbans and shave their beards while the religious accommodation request for their turbans and beards is being considered, which is unacceptable to us."

by on Mar. 17, 2014 at 10:14 PM
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Replies (1-10):
4evrinbluejeans
by KK on Mar. 18, 2014 at 8:34 AM

BUMP!

snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 8:41 AM

The rules have been in place for a long time and for various reasons.  I don't know what could be changed and what is good basic policy

Mommy_of_Riley
by Jes on Mar. 18, 2014 at 8:45 AM
1 mom liked this
Two things...

First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board.

Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.
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Mommabearbergh
by Gold Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 8:51 AM

but if they serve in a islamic country and its better to have that beard then not. There are several special forces guys that have to grow a beard when going out.you look very odd clean shaven in a country where most of the men have facial hair.

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: Two things... First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board. Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.


Mommabearbergh
by Gold Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 8:54 AM

I see no issue with accomadating religious beliefs.In some units if you don't go to church you clean.  The man is a surgeon its not like medical dr's are lining up to enlist. I feel if you want to serve your country your religious attire really shouldn't be that much to accomadate when they can do so to every other accepted religion. If they aren't going across the board then they should but they should also do all the leg work if it means that much to you.

nelopyma
by Bronze Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 9:01 AM


Quoting Mommabearbergh:

but if they serve in a islamic country and its better to have that beard then not. There are several special forces guys that have to grow a beard when going out.you look very odd clean shaven in a country where most of the men have facial hair.

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: Two things... First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board. Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.

Which is why the rule is relaxed for special forces.  For the average American in military uniform?  They don't need to blend in.  This rule has been in place for as long as I've been around the military... it's not like it's a new thing.

Mommabearbergh
by Gold Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 9:09 AM

I still feel it is better to have a beard then not if he is ever stationed in a islamic country and has to go off base.It would work for him then against him. He went through the proper procedures to get his beard and turban to pass. I am aware of the policies with facial hair but this is more thenjust a guy wanting to grow his beard. Its for religious reasons. 

Quoting nelopyma:


Quoting Mommabearbergh:

but if they serve in a islamic country and its better to have that beard then not. There are several special forces guys that have to grow a beard when going out.you look very odd clean shaven in a country where most of the men have facial hair.

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: Two things... First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board. Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.

Which is why the rule is relaxed for special forces.  For the average American in military uniform?  They don't need to blend in.  This rule has been in place for as long as I've been around the military... it's not like it's a new thing.


nelopyma
by Bronze Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 9:15 AM


Quoting Mommabearbergh:

I still feel it is better to have a beard then not if he is ever stationed in a islamic country and has to go off base.It would work for him then against him. He went through the proper procedures to get his beard and turban to pass. I am aware of the policies with facial hair but this is more thenjust a guy wanting to grow his beard. Its for religious reasons. 

Quoting nelopyma:


Quoting Mommabearbergh:

but if they serve in a islamic country and its better to have that beard then not. There are several special forces guys that have to grow a beard when going out.you look very odd clean shaven in a country where most of the men have facial hair.

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: Two things... First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board. Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.

Which is why the rule is relaxed for special forces.  For the average American in military uniform?  They don't need to blend in.  This rule has been in place for as long as I've been around the military... it's not like it's a new thing.

That's not even my point.  My point is that 1) in Islamic countries, US military members are strongly discouraged from leaving the base, and 2) the US military wants its members to be clean-shaven and easily recognizable in such a country.

Mommabearbergh
by Gold Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 9:20 AM

But there are times that they will have to go off base. There are times will he won't have the safety of the base. Also if he is on base and known on base because I doubt there are millions of sikh surgeons  walking around on base he would be known and easy to spot. As I said I am aware of the policies of being clean shaven but he has it for religious reasons not just to wear a beard.

Quoting nelopyma:


Quoting Mommabearbergh:

I still feel it is better to have a beard then not if he is ever stationed in a islamic country and has to go off base.It would work for him then against him. He went through the proper procedures to get his beard and turban to pass. I am aware of the policies with facial hair but this is more thenjust a guy wanting to grow his beard. Its for religious reasons. 

Quoting nelopyma:


Quoting Mommabearbergh:

but if they serve in a islamic country and its better to have that beard then not. There are several special forces guys that have to grow a beard when going out.you look very odd clean shaven in a country where most of the men have facial hair.

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: Two things... First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board. Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.

Which is why the rule is relaxed for special forces.  For the average American in military uniform?  They don't need to blend in.  This rule has been in place for as long as I've been around the military... it's not like it's a new thing.

That's not even my point.  My point is that 1) in Islamic countries, US military members are strongly discouraged from leaving the base, and 2) the US military wants its members to be clean-shaven and easily recognizable in such a country.


mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Mar. 18, 2014 at 9:53 AM

 Special forces are allowed to wear beards no exemption needed so that renders this argument moot. The Gas masks don't really work anyway.

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: Two things... First, Jews cannot wear head garments and many have applied for exemption and were denied. So if this is going to go through then it needs to be across the board. Second, having a beard will make it very hard to use a gas mask and that is a serious safety hazard.

 

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