Simran Preet Singh Lamba became the first man in over 30 years to be allowed to wear his religiously mandated turban, beard and hear while serving in the Army. Lambda, a Sikh, was recruited by the Army in 2009 through its Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program because of his language skills in Punjabi and Hindi. At the time of his recruitment he was told that his religious articles would like be accommodated, prompting Lambda to agree to serve.
But current Army regulations do not permit a new recruit to request a religious accommodation, regardless of faith affiliation. Lamba, based on the recruiters representations, requested an accommodation anyways through the Army’s Human Resources Command. His request was formally denied in March.
Lambda is not alone in seeking such an accommodation. Last year two Sikh Army officers–a medical doctor and a dentist–were granted one-time exceptions. However Lambda is the first enlisted man to win such an accommodation.
By all accounts, the Army has been willing, despite its regulations, to work with Sikhs and retain their talent. Lambda’s attorneys had nothing but praise for the branch and released the following statement. “We remain deeply impressed with the Army’s forward-thinking approach in allowing Mr. Lambda to serve with his turban and beard, and reaffirm our call for the Army to consider amendments to its uniform policy that continues to close the door to other Sikh Americans wanting to serve in the U.S. Army.”
A standard criticism of the military is that it remains an inflexible bureaucracy, unable to adapt to the changing security needs of our times. In many ways this is a fair criticism, but like any large institution, our military is only as flexible and open-minded as its leadership. Perhaps these steps, both actual and symbolic, represent an opening of the minds of our military leadership. And even if they are simply more of a pragmatic response to a political necessity–that is, as global dynamics shift so to do military personnel needs–then at the least pragmatism has won out over misdirected visions of just who is an American and what an American soldier is supposed to look like.
photo courtesy of KuarArt via Flickr