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Nevada Guardsman allowed to grow beard for Norse pagan religious beliefs

Acting first sergeant Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hopper, now deployed in Afghanistan with the 3665th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) is the first Nevada Army Guard Soldier to receive a religious accommodation for a beard. Hopper received his religious accommodation based on his Norse Pagan beliefs. Two other Nevada Army Guard Pagan Soldiers are also pursuing a religious accommodation for a beard. (Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka, Nevada Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs)
December 31, 2019

A member of the Nevada Army National Guard’s 3665th Ordnance Company has become the first member of the Nevada Army Guard to receive the religious accommodation approval to grow a beard.

Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hopper was seen sporting a full beard before his unit deployed last summer to Afghanistan, according to KOLO-TV. The Army allows for a religious exception to standard dress and grooming regulations, as does the Air Force.

Like other service religious service members Hopper was allowed to grow his beard as a tenet of his faith. Military service members have previously been permitted to wear Muslim hijabs and headscarves or Sikh turbans and patkas with uncut beards and uncut hair. Hopper’s own beard is a part of his Scandinavian inspired Norse pagan worship.

Along with his beard, Hopper may also choose a Hammer of Thor emblem for his Veteran’s Administration-issued gravestone or marker.

According to the Nevada Guard Chaplain’s Office, two other pagans are also seeking permission to wear beards. Brig. Gen. Ondra Berry will reportedly review their requests by mid-February.

As part of the process to approve a waiver, those pursuing religious accommodations must undergo an interview with a chaplain to assess the religious basis for their request and determine its sincerity.

In his request, Hopper pointed to documents describing Norse beards as a “sacred and defining feature of masculine men.”

Hopper, who is 34-years-old, said he has practiced Norse paganism for around two decades. He further claimed his beliefs are well in accordance with the Army warrior ethos.

As part of his waiver, Hopper reportedly now carries a memorandum of the approval granted for his facial hair, should anyone question his grooming while he is on deployment in Afghanistan. Hopper is expected to carry out explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) missions while deployed.

Hopper said he has received some scrutiny while on deployment, including by high-ranking individuals, but that once he presents his memorandum and the surrounding regulations “the focus on the beard tends to go away, for the most part.”

Service members who have been permitted exemptions for items like religious headgear must also be able to wear their protective headgear.

The regulations for exempted beards, defined by Army rules ( AR-670-1) still requires the facial hair to be groomed and kept in a professional appearance and are not permitted to exceed two inches in length.

“I have had absolutely no hindrance to my professional performance or accomplishment of the mission due to my beard while deployed in Afghanistan,” Hopper said of his beard. “I do get up a little earlier than others to make sure it is in accordance with AR 670-1, but that is about it.”

The latest religious accommodation may show signs of ever more diverse practices within the military, following past efforts by Sikh and Muslim service members.

Hopper compared the exemptions to a phase of change, similar to when the Army permitted soldiers to wear black socks during their fitness tests.

“It is something new and authorized and you will always encounter people who do not like change,” Hopper said. “That is just life.”

Joint Force State Chaplain Maj. Donald Crandell said he and his staff will work with military members seeking genuine accommodations, “However, we are not actively promoting a trend in this direction or seeking to normalize it.”