The US Air Force made it easier for its soldiers to wear hijabs and turbans during active duty
Under these new rules, soldiers can apply for religious accommodations to wear turbans, beards, unshorn hair, and hijabs, granted that they do not interfere with their military tasks (e.g. operating equipment and weapons).
Applications are reviewed and approved within 30 days (or 60, in more limited cases), given they meet the needed criteria. Once they are approved, the soldier will be able to wear any of the aforementioned for the rest of their military career.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a first in US military history. It’s simply a different branch of the army (the Air Force) making changes to the dress code and making things easier than they were before.
Those in service were allowed to wear turbans and other religious accommodations before the 1980s. Later, these rights were revoked. It wasn’t until 2009 that talks on the matter of serving with a beard and religious apparel while in uniform were jump-started again.
The Armed Forces made changes to allow such apparel back in 2017 and the Air Force soon followed suit
Since then, there have been cases of Sikh and Muslim soldiers receiving exemptions to the rule. Then, in 2017, the Armed Forces officially declared under Army Directive 2017-03 that amended Army Regulation 670-1 and soldiers were once again allowed to wear turbans, hijabs, and beards.
According to Sgt. Maj. Anthony J. Moore, the uniform policy branch sergeant major inside the Army’s G-1, explained that the uniform change in the Armed Forces was made mainly as a way of increasing diversity, thus offering more opportunities for people to serve in the military.
“There was a section of the population who previously were unable to enlist in the Army. This makes the Army better because you’re opening the doors for more talent. You’re allowing people to come in who have skills the Army can use,” said Moore.
The reason behind the several decades of strict rules regarding the matter boiled down to safety. The Army was of the stance that religious headwear would hinder soldiers from meeting health, safety, and mission requirements, including things like using gas masks and operating military equipment.
Here are the official mockups for the turban, beard and hijab dress code of the US Armed Forces from 2017
The current rules are not, however, all-inclusive for the Armed Forces, as they don’t solve the issue of face masks. Further studies and testing are still needed in order to identify the types of masks that are able to guarantee the safety of those serving in hazardous areas. Until then, soldiers will be required to shave their beards in the event of hazardous conditions forming.
This is a big deal for those in the Air Force, as masks are compulsory at all times when operating aircraft vehicles. These masks provide military pilots with a fresh oxygen mixture to avoid hypoxia symptoms. However, there are turbans and other headwear specifically made to fit under the helmets and masks.
This allows religious groups like the Sikh and Muslims to join the force without compromise