Eric Fanning, a US Army Secretary revised the uniform policy which now sets a guideline for army officers of minority faiths including Islam and Sikhism to wear particular turbans, head scarfs and beard styles.
Welcoming the new policy, Harsimran Kaur, Legal Director for the Sikh Coalition said: “We are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for religious tolerance and diversity.”
As long as the soldier is granted a religious accommodation, soldiers may wear a turban or under-turban known as a Patka, as long as they are able to wear combat helmets and other protective headgear; but their hairstyles must be altered to achieve a proper fit.
However, Major Kamal Kalsi, the first Sikh to be granted a religious accommodation, said the process in gaining the uniform exception is extremely long and laborious, which may drive religious minorities away.
Major Kalsi said: “I think that’s a shame, because that situation basically pushes away young, qualified candidates, be it from the Sikh religion, or from the Muslim religion, or Buddhist.
“If we want a modern progressive military that looks like America, we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that not all Americans look alike.”
Beards are allowed, but they may not be longer than two inches, according to the memo which sets out the policy. If they are longer, they should be rolled or tied up.
The new rules forces senior figures to approve the religious accommodations otherwise they will face disciplinary action.
Lieutenant Colonel Randy Taylor said: “Our goal is to balance soldier readiness and safety with the accommodation of our solders’ faith practices, and this latest directive allows us to do that.”
Approved uniform codes will stay throughout a soldier’s career and may not be modified without the approval of the Army secretary.
The new rules allow head scarfs, or hijabs, for Muslim women. They must be of a similar colour to the uniform and be free of designs or markings, unless they are camouflage and worn with a camouflage uniform.
Hair grooming rules have been amended to allow for braids, cornrows, twists or locks, the memo said.