Retired Army Chief of Chaplains Explains Need for Religious Beard Exemptions in Military

Retired Army Chief of Chaplains Explains Need for Religious Beard Exemptions in Military

I’m Chaplain (Major General) Doug Carver,
United States Army, retired. You know, when I assumed duties as the Chief
of Chaplains for the United States Army, the senior pastor, if you will, for the Army
– that’s 1.2 million soldiers. I had the responsibility to ensure that all
of our 1.2 million soldiers had the freedom to exercise their religious beliefs and practices
regardless of what that might be. One of the things that I remember, having
served in the military, was the importance of faith in the lives of our soldiers, our
service members and their families. Regardless of their upbringing, faith became
very, very important to them simply by the very nature that they’re dealing with life-and-death
issues. Military training is very challenging and
difficult. It’s dangerous when you’re jumping out
of planes, or you’re moving around large, heavy objects like Bradley tanks. I first became engaged with the Sikh community
in 2009, 2010 as the military was looking at making exceptions to policy for two or
three Sikh officers. One was a doctor and one was a dentist, who
had both served in combat and they had distinguished records,
had even come back, I believe with even Bronze Stars. And they had certainly done a stellar job,
and they were asking for accommodation for their hair and for their turbans. These Sikh soldiers, they were practicing
their faith as hard as I was practicing my Protestant faith. And that’s what I noticed, that this was
a legitimate request from individuals who said, “This is who I am. I am a soldier who happens to be a Sikh, and
I would like to continue to honor my faith while I serve in the military.” And that’s what really persuaded me that
we needed to look at this. I think the primary reason that the army accommodated
those religious beliefs, first of all we needed their skill sets in
an army that was at war and we had a shortage in the area of some of our medical community
and also in some of our interpreters. So it was actually a military combat need
that really brought the discussion to surface. And also those individuals had shown themselves
to be great soldiers, highly respected by their chain of command and by other soldiers. And other than the fact that they looked different
from their religious facial hair and their religious artifacts, they were stellar soldiers. You know, before the army accommodated the
two Sikh officers, obviously they went through a series of military
training to ensure that these items would not interfere with them and their combat readiness
on the field. And as they passed those combat readiness
training exercises, it was validated that the fact that they look a little different
in their appearance does not impact their combat readiness as a soldier on the battlefield. And their accommodation actually opened the door
for some of our Orthodox rabbis, who at the same time were requesting to maintain their
facial hair in accordance with their religious beliefs. As a Southern Baptist, when I reach out to
ensure that a Roman Catholic’s beliefs are honored and allowed, I’m also protecting
my own religious beliefs as well as our Jewish soldiers, our Orthodox soldiers, our Hindi
soldiers, our Sikh soldiers. In this whole area of religious diversity,
as something new comes on the scene, we need to be willing – mature enough, and educate
ourselves on, ‘well, why can’t it work?’ Instead of saying no, this is something we
haven’t done before. Like with the Sikhs, for 30 years, we didn’t
have the discussion. I think we need to ask more questions like
“why not?” And how can we change our policy to accommodate
those who have all of the other faculties to be outstanding, and perhaps some of the
best soldiers that we can recruit and retain?


  1. When the Army accommodated them, they discriminated against everyone else. Truth is, every religion can make the same claim for growing a beard. Truth is also that the a United States stands alone in it’s refusal to allow military personnel to grow a beard. It’s a regulation that really needs to go away. It’s just not valid, especially in an all volunteer force. Facial hair is part of the man’s body. More and more men are finally embracing it, as are the company’s they work for. When beards first started coming back, everyone thought it was just a passing fad. But its not. They’re here to stay. It’s about time. It should’ve happened years ago. The actual fad was the shaving that had been taking place from the invention of the safety razor until about 5 years ago. That fas is over.

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