Simratpal Singh became the first active duty soldier to be granted permission to serve in the U.S. Army while having a beard, wearing a turban and leaving his hair uncut, as reported by CNN. Capt. Singh has served in the U.S. Army for 10 years and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. During this time, he complied with army regulations to cut his hair and shave his beard, but he always felt it conflicted with his value as a Sikh.
Wearing a turban, and having uncut hair and a beard, have deep meaning for Sikh men. They are representative of a commitment to justice and the value of serving those who cannot defend themselves. According to the Sikh Coalition, the turban specifically is "a symbol of sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety."
Capt. Singh always felt drawn to the U.S. Army because, in many ways, military values are similar to the Sikh faith. "The Sikh concept of standing up for the weak and defending the defenseless is very much at the core of the Sikh psyche, and those are same ideals that the U.S. Army upholds," he says.
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When Capt. Singh first started at West Point Academy, he was extremely saddened when he learned he would have to shave his beard. After adhering to the army's appearance standards for years, he finally requested an exemption in October 2015, which was granted on a temporary basis. When the exemption was set to expire in February, Capt. Singh was asked to report for additional gas and helmet testing that went beyond the normal requirements, so he decided to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense. He was officially granted the exemption last week.
Capt. Singh came to the U.S. from Punjab, India when he was just nine years old, graduated with honors from West Point, and received a Bronze Star for his duty in Afghanistan. Receiving this exemption for his faith has made him feel like he's truly achieved his childhood dreams. He said "As a kid, you are told, you can be anything in the U.S., and that rings through even more now."