Earlier this year, the Pentagon handed out more religious exemptions on grooming standards in order to accommodate individuals like these Sikhs. However, they are now saying that the Defense Department has not done enough for them, preventing them from joining the military and serving their country. They are complaining that the new standards still allow commanders to force them to cut their beards while waiting for a religious exemption. The Pentagon has said it has given leeway and that it is unlikely to make further changes on its grooming standards.
Only three of 500,000 active-duty and reserve Army troops are Sikhs — followers of a religion that started in the Punjab region — and that has a few of them upset, decrying a U.S. military policy against long hair and beards that won’t let them easily join.
Activists for the religious order are asking that the White House step in and open the doors for Sikhs to have the same chance to be all they can be as any other U.S. Army recruit.
The Defense Department did issue new religious exemption guidelines earlier this year. But Sikhs say the new policy only made matters worse because it said the military could order them to cut off their beards and long tresses in the span of time it takes to receive their exemptions, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“I would gladly sacrifice my life for the mission,” said Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, who became the first Sikh allowed into the Army in decades in 2009, The Los Angeles Times said. “But I could not cut my hair and remove my turban. They’re not mine to give. They belong to my God.”
So far, the Sikh effort to prod the White House and Pentagon to grant speedier religious exemptions has the backing of 100-plus congressional members. But the Army says policy is policy, and grooming standards are likely to stay.
“[Grooming standards] are an integrate part of unit cohesion, good order and discipline and, ultimately, mission accomplishment,” said Army spokeswoman Alayne Conway, in The Los Angeles Times. “[Recruits must don] neat and conservative” hairstyles and a clean-shaven face, mustache-free, she said.