Having a beard in the U.S. military can be difficult due to its ban on facial hair while in uniform. This makes it especially difficult for men who have a beard keeping with religious traditions and requirements. Religious beards in the military were allowed in 2017, but the process to be granted that right takes a bit of time. The military has granted a few troops the ability to keep their facial hair in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Islam & The First Religious Beard in The US Military (Air Force)
The first person granted a beard waiver in the U.S. Airforce due to his faith was a Muslim soldier. Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan waited four years for official approval. Requiring the “unit commander, base chaplain, installation commander up to the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel Division,” to all sign off on the beard waiver. Gaitan notes that growing a beard is “a constant reminder of our faith and who we are as Muslims” (The Prophet Muhammad was said to have a beard, and it has come to signify a closeness with Allah).
The Bearded Soldier & The Norse Pagan Faith (U.S. Army)
In Old Norse practice, having a beard isn’t exactly a requirement, but rather a beloved tradition. The army didn’t allow it for that reason. In 2015, however, the U.S. officially recognized the religion. This authorization was a huge step for future military men with religious beards in the military and specifically those practicing Norse Paganism. The Army Times has since reported that a soldier at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was granted permission to grow a beard in accordance with heathenry.
Sikh Beards in The Military
Capt. Simratpal Singh faced many complications when trying to receive a waiver for his beard. Singh is a Sikh soldier who applied for the facial hair waiver before he was to report to Fort Belvoir. Sikhs don’t cut their hair and beards out of respect for the God-given form. At first, he removed his turban and shaved his facial hair knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get away with them until he was officially granted approval. The army granted him several temporary waivers, but never a permanent one. That went on for months. He then filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department to gain permission to peacefully follow through with his faith requirements.
In many religions, facial hair is an important tradition. Unfortunately, the U.S. military can make it difficult for many religious groups to continue the practice while serving their country. After Canada’s recent acceptance of facial hair in the military, it seems only fair that the United States would do the same. It would surely make the lives of religious people a lot easier. Hopefully, someday, we will see the acceptance of beards in the military.