Sikh US Army captain allowed to wear beard, turban in uniform

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Sikh U.S. Army Captain Allowed to Wear Beard, Turban in Uniform

WASHINGTON, April 1 (Reuters) - A Sikh U.S. Army captain has been granted a long-term religious accommodation to wear a beard, turban and uncut hair in uniform, a decision supporters hailed on Friday as a landmark that could help other religious Sikhs to serve in the military.

Captain Simratpal Singh received the accommodation in a memorandum from Assistant Army Secretary Debra Wada dated March 30. The memo spelled out certain limitations and said the Army was working to develop uniform standards for soldiers who receive such waivers.

The accommodation for Singh is the first for an active-duty Sikh soldier since the Pentagon took steps two years ago to give individual troops greater latitude to wear turbans, head scarfs, yarmulke and tattoos as part of their religion.

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The Pentagon's move sought to make it easier for Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Wiccans and others to follow the tenets of their faith while serving in the U.S. military. But advocacy groups say the process remains difficult.

The accommodation for Singh, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, was granted only after he sued to prevent the service from requiring him to undergo extensive testing to ensure that his beard and hair did not interfere with his helmet or gas mask.

Even as his court case was pending, Singh passed a routine gas mask test with his unit. In barring the extensive testing, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said it made little sense since 100,000 soldiers had been allowed beards for medical reasons.

Advocates say Singh is the first active duty Sikh soldier to be permitted to begin wearing a turban, long hair and beard even though he had previously served without them. Singh followed Army grooming standards when he entered the military academy at West Point but regretted it and sought an accommodation last year.

"My faith ... is an integral part of who I am. I am thankful that I no longer have to make the choice between faith and service to our nation," Singh said in a statement issued by the Sikh Coalition.

Amandeep Sidhu, one of Singh's attorneys with McDermott Will & Emery, called the Army decision "a step in the right direction" but added "we are not satisfied with the U.S. military's arduous, piecemeal approach to this issue, which forces all observant Sikhs to seek individual religious accommodations."

Singh's legal team also filed a federal lawsuit this week on behalf of three other Sikh service members seeking a religious accommodation.

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Sikh US Army captain allowed to wear beard, turban in uniform
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers load ammunition into rifles during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers part of NATO patrol during the final day of a month long anti-Taliban operation by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, at an Afghan National Army base in Khogyani district on August 30, 2015. Afghan security forces launched a joint anti-militant operation in three districts, killing over 150 armed insurgents and wounding 112 others with 13 security personnel killed and three others were wounded in the past 30 days, Afghan National Army Commander Zaman Waziri said. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are served lunch at a kitchen inside a base in the Khogyani districtin the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers fire during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army personnel keep watch at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers play basketball at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, a US army soldier and military dog keep watch as Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk through coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier takes aim during a military exercise at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers play chess inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier poses for a photograph at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier looks on with binoculars at Coalition forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier plays on a smartphone as he lies on a bed at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers walk past an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to American troops during a visit in FOB Gamberi, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel visited the Forward Operating Base to meet with Afghanistan military officials and visit with American troops stationed there. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
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A Chinock window gunner guards, near U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, on a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Hagel spoke with troops and thanked them for being deployed for the holidays. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
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