Capt. Simratpal Singh will be temporarily allowed to wear a turban and short beard in accordance with his Sikh faith, Army leaders decided last December. Singh, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict and earned a Bronze Star.
“It is wonderful. I had been living a double life, wearing a turban only at home,” he told The New York Times. “My two worlds have finally come back together.” Singh had originally adhered to Army grooming standards but decided to request an accommodation so he could comply with his faith.
The Times reported that it is the first time in decades that any branch of the military granted a combat solider a religious accommodation for grooming practices. The Army had previously extended similar accommodation requests to chaplains and medical personnel but had denied requests from active-duty combat soldiers and members of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) on safety grounds.
In 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected that argument in a limited sense and ruled that because the Army had allowed ROTC members to grow beards for medical reasons, it must allow religious accommodations for Sikhs and other faiths. However, that ruling did not apply to Singh or other combat soldiers.