Sikh Turban in Military

Oh I don’t know, perhaps it is just a little bit of jealousy.  I can remember in 2003 Iraq when they told us Marines to grow a mustache if we could and I just couldn’t pull it off.  Despite the fact that I was 22, my mustache still looked like that 12-year-old kid in junior high who refused to shave his 6 mustache hairs on each side so everyone knew he hit puberty.  I have a small beard now, thank goodness puberty finally hit in my late 20’s.  The Army Captain you see above is a decorated combat veteran who has been given an exemption to maintain his beard and wear his turban in keeping with his Sikh faith despite the fact that it is direct conflict with Army standards.  As a result, the military and veteran community has been set ablaze with conversation about whether this was appropriate or not.  Many are die-hard against it, some say it’s perfectly fine, but if I am honest the majority seems to be somewhere in the middle on this issue and I think it has more to do with the man himself than the policy.  So I thought I’d weigh in and try to give words to those feeling this sentiment, of cool beard bro, cool guy, but if I am honest I don’t like it.

The Bearded Conundrum

The funny thing about this guy’s beard and the fact that it flies in the face of typical military regulation is that if he were deployed to Afghanistan, everyone would just think he is a special operator.  Thanks to local Afghan customs, our special forces guys have been the envy of most every other veteran as they were encouraged to grow the special operator beard.  And to be honest, we all thank it looks pretty dang awesome.  Granted, most of the military wasn’t allowed to do so, but trust me when I say we as Veterans have more than made up for our beard envy when we separated and the tactical beard became a thing.

Sikh beard military

So clearly this guy’s beard has little effect on his ability to serve in combat and if anything, that and the turban makes him look all the more aggressive.  Honestly, I’d take a turban any day over those army berets that look like they just ran out of Viagra.  The turban looks cool, I dig it and the beard makes this Captain the ultimate tacti-cool guy in the entire military.  The Canadian Defense Minister is actually a Sikh who wears the same getup ,and to be honest, it makes Canada look like a bad son of gun compared our typical Sec Def old man in a suit.  No matter what many vets or current military will tell you, most of the men in the military are a little jealous of this guy because he won the ultimate no-shave chit.

Cool Guy

Apart from the getup, this guy seems like the real deal and the kind of person you want with you in combat.  The guy is actually a West Point grad who was devastated when found out he had to shave his beard upon acceptance, but he did it anyway.  He then went on to serve for 10 years adhering to the typical grooming standards while picking up a Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan.  To me, that is highly respectable on multiple levels.  First, that he was willing to sacrifice his tradition for service.  Trust me when I say it is quite common for your military men to compromise their morality on a regular basis, but that is mostly while on leave for the weekend and after the consumption of a beverage or two, or many.


But to put aside a deeply held religious belief so you can serve is on an entirely different playing field.  As a result, there is a part of me that hates he was ever asked to do so.  Sikhs are pretty honorable people with a noble tradition of fighting the bad guys.  Not to mention they have every reason to be pissed for getting confused with Muslims all these years.  I respect this Army Captain, I respect the Sikh community, and you won’t hear me raising too much of a fuss that this particular man gets to wear his beard and turban with honor.  But I’d be lying if I told you I liked it.

I’m a Grumpy Old Man and I Don’t Like It

The aforementioned praise of this man has nothing to do with political correctness as that honestly has little to no place in the military.  Rather, it really is just this sentiment of cool beard, decorated combat vet, why not you seem like a good guy. But with myself, there will always be a part of me and many veterans that we just don’t like about it.  And it actually bothers me that proponents for this freedom are treating all opposition to it like we are religious or racial bigots when it honestly has nothing to do with that.

Our military experience began with being stripped of every individuality and being built up to become one cohesive fighting unit.  There is something inspiring about the snap and pop of a homogenous looking crew of men that screams military discipline. So as much as I like this guy and realize the beard is irrelevant in combat, it just kind of grinds my gears a bit.  But I think worse, is my fear for what comes next. When the Rastafarian faithful start coming out of the woodworks in light of this ruling I’m going to throw up and then cry.  If there is one thing we have come to learn and the rolling progressive train is that it never stops at the station at which you would have hoped.  More is always on the way.  This is my baby-faced, can’t grow facial hair, I don’t like it face.

Hands in pockets

Yes, my hands are in my pockets, get over it.  Bottom line, we need men like Captain Simratpal Singh in the United States Military, but if this gets out of control then we don’t need this one man that bad.  I respect his 10 years of honorable service and all the more so because he actually adhered to Army regulation throughout much of his service.  But perhaps it is envy, perhaps it is because I am a grumpy old man who doesn’t like change, or perhaps it is because I don’t like the idea of allowing an exception to military discipline and standards, but I just don’t like it.  Cool beard, cool guy, I can live with it, but I don’t like it.  Just one grunt’s opinion.

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12 Replies to “Cool Beard Bro, Cool Guy, But If I am Honest This Vet Doesn’t Like It”

  1. Know what grinds my gears? The billboards here in Los Angeles that say, “Honoring hispanic values, and the Marines who honor them” I only thought there was one color of Marine.

    1. Just a way to screw up the military, kowtowing to minorities. The member are supposed to conform to the Military not the other way around. I have read that in SE Asia some SF “advisors” in Laos had to marry into the tribe and consummate, to get anything done. So operators often have to do things that are not advertised in recruiting posters and may not look like a Guard at the tomb of the unknown……

  2. Very well articulated. I respect that you came out and said part of it might be just envy, a point a lot of commenters are hiding in their minds. I think your point on the cohesive fighting units is what most serving and veteran Soldier see as the problem. My question is why this would/is/will be a problem in the US military but is not a problem in the forces around the world (such as your mentioned Canadian army). The british army has a history as illustrious and full of uniform standards as ours, and yet they not only have used Sikhs as warriors for a hundred years, but have kept the rank of Pioneer SGT (and it’s burly beard) long past it’s need with no effect to unit moral.

    1. That’s a good point. I actually do a lot of writing for war history sites and have written several stories about Sikh recipients of the Medal of Honor. It’s hard to judge against the past as standards were completely different then. I mentioned in the article that Sikhs have a long tradition of gallant action in combat. But our modern military has made some pretty uniform standards that are part of the process of taking of a raw 18yo kid and turning them into a Marine, Solider, or whatever.

      And it puts everyone on an even playing field from day one down to shaved heads and whitey tighty underwear. It’s hard to describe, but I can’t imagine a military experience where uniformity and discipline is not prized. But his guy is a proven warrior and I applaud him for meeting the standards for so long. That’s why I chose the phrase of “i don’t like it” versus something more harsh and definitive.

  3. Too funny that you write this today. In 1992 as a new SGT I reclassed from Grunt to Super REMF (Ordinance Corps). I reported to Redstone Arsenal, AL for training, and I was lost like a 2LT. I found a BDE HQ, and as I was about to walk in, a bearded man wearing a turban and BDUs with SGM rank walked out. I didn’t know whether to punch him in the throat, or stand at Parade Rest… I chose the latter. He politely gave me directions of where I needed to go, and who to see. I returned to Redstone for BNCOC in 1995, and my class learned the SGM Sibia was Sikh, and was drafted during the Vietnam era. He was allowed to keep his turban and beard due to his faith, and they were continued to be allowed when he re-enlisted. My BNCOC class was crazy; we requested SGM Sibia be our guest speaker at graduation. He was actually very touched since we were the only class that ever requested him. Fast forward to 3 days ago, Saturday. My good friend and fellow retiree went to breakfast. He told me a story how then 1SG Sibia was the best 1SG he’d ever had in his 24 years of service. So maybe there is room for Sikh’s to serve in the military. They’d be non-deployable since a pro mask could never seal, but maybe there’s contributions they could make. I’m just sayin.

  4. Hmmm. I get your point, but I would suggest that by having gone through the process of recruitment and training and following the regulations, including removing his beard he has adhered to the standards you are looking for. As a decorated soldier who has now proved himself though are we not entitled to allow a certain amount of leeway for significant religious/cultural traditions. The other way of looking at it might be the other extreme where we remove the right of a Christian to wear his Crucifix or a jew to wear a Star of David. Though they are not visible, there are also not a regulation part of the uniform. Your thoughts Jeff?
    (I once served with a guy “Speedy” Gonzales who had ASD on his tags as religion…turn out he told recruiting he was an Aztec Sun Worshipper and they didn’t want to question his religious beliefs.)

  5. One of the reasons for regulations is for everyone to adhere to the same standard. I get it for special operators, well sort of. i mean, who in the backwoods of Astan doesnt recognize Americans even if they have a beard. You should have to accept the standards if you want to serve. So now you can serve if you are openly gay or transgendered or whatever the hell they are calling it these days. I have a brother and a son on active duty and they both say that morale is being depleted by all the exceptions to dress, grooming, gender, and sexual orientation. I am afraid we will wind up with a second rate military in the years to come thanks to everybody wanting a hug or their feelings validated. Other countries have gone along with this BS for years. But how many wars have they won lately? Turbans off to the Captain who wanted to serve. But shame on him for undermining the principals the military stands for. Just because you can dont make it right.

    1. Well said Gunny. i keep hearing the same thing through this blog that morale is drastically low. I even went and talked to a couple of Marine recruiters to get feedback for the blog and the same sentiments were echoed.

  6. If he is able to wear that then I suppose that Christians in the service can wear a Cross. Am I right?

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