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American Sikh soldiers need beard exemptions, US special forces do not
The A-Team has beards?

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 | 10:14 pm

Left: US Army Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Right: A US Army Special Forces (Green Beret) soldier, in Afghanistan

Photo Source: SikhNN, newser.com

Although the U. S. military is scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the whiskered special forces have already been sighted in another troubled part of the world: the Horn of Africa. Their mission is to counter violent extremism in the wake of the mall attack in Nairobi last year, where several Sikhs also were killed.

“Housed in a compound within a compound are hundreds of highly secretive special forces operatives from JSOC – U. S. Joint Special Operations Command,” reported the BBC, about two weeks ago.

“Huge men with beards and steely expressions, they keep to themselves, often deploying at night.”

On Jan. 29, following the policy change, the Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing on ‘Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services.’ While most of the committee members debated the religious freedoms of chaplains in the military, one raised a question about the religious rights of Sikhs.

“Can you please explain why there remains a presumptive ban?” asked Congressman Joe Heck of Nevada.

“What the changes do, it tries to balance the need or provides the service to balance the needs of the service member against mission accomplishment,” said Virginia Penrod, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy. “What we’ve done is, decisions relating to any waiver of a regulation or policy that pertain to uniform wear religious articles of clothing, is now elevated to the service secretary.”

“If it is now elevated to the three-star level, you would think that would carry through in the person’s lifetime of service as opposed to every time they change assignments,” Heck said.

But that is not the case. Each of the service secretaries will have to reassess the new position to see how it impacts unit cohesion, health and safety, Penrod said.

Heck served with retired Col. Arjinderpal Singh Sekhon when he was commander of the 349th Combat Support Hospital, in 2007.

“(He was) one of the trailblazers, and seemed to be able to overcome every obstacle that the military tried to put in his way from effective service,” Heck said. “I’m curious why the DODI (Department of Defense Instruction) still maintains those bans?”

About 45 Sikhs attended the hearing, although only 10 were seated in the main room. After the hearing, Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi was surrounded by reporters for an impromptu news conference.

“Navy Seals and special operators can have these full blown beards, why can’t Sikhs?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know,” the major replied.

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