WASHINGTON: A US Army captain who is Sikh has been granted a rare -- albeit temporary -- waiver letting him keep his beard and wear a turban while serving, his representatives said Monday.
The case of Captain Simratpal Singh comes nearly two years after the Pentagon loosened a requirement for soldiers to be "clean-cut."
The restrictions, which can now be appealed on a case-by-case basis, meant Sikh soldiers had to choose between cutting their hair or serving.
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Devout adherents of the Sikh faith do not cut their hair or shave, and often wear turbans to wrap up their lengthy locks.
Despite issuing thousands of beard waivers for medical reasons, it is only the fourth time the military has granted such a religious accommodation since the 1980s, according to The Sikh Coalition.
The group said Singh was forced to cut his hair and shave when he entered the West Point military academy.
Nearly a decade later, having earned a Bronze Star for clearing roadside bombs in Afghanistan and other military accolades, Singh fought to keep his beard.
"I have so much pride in my Sikh identity and service to my nation," Singh told the coalition.
"To feel spiritually whole while continuing my military career has always been the dream."
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The Army approved a one-month temporary religious accommodation last week.
"The bulk of your hair, beard, or turban may not be such that it impairs your ability to wear the Kevlar helmet or other protective equipment," the order states.
Singh's lawyers called for the waiver to be made indefinite.
"The writing on the wall is clear," attorney Amandeep Sidhu said in a statement.
"Captain Singh's accommodation should be made permanent and the time is now for a comprehensive policy change."
Last month, 27 retired US generals called on Pentagon chief Ashton Carter to eliminate such restrictions.
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Carter has repeatedly stressed the need for America's fighting forces to recruit from all walks of society and this month lifted a ban on women joining combat units.
Several countries including Britain, Canada and India allow Sikhs to serve in uniform while maintaining their hair.
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