Just two weeks before President-elect Donald Trump enters office, the U.S. Army issued a new regulation under the Obama administration: servicemen and women will be allowed to wear beards, turbans, or hijabs for religious purposes while serving the country.
The changes issued by Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning were announced Tuesday and were effective immediately, according to the Atlantic. Apart from religious dress coding, servicewomen can now wear dreadlocks (as long as it’s neat and tied), twists, and cornrows, without requesting an accommodation to wear them.
"Our goal is to balance soldier readiness and safety with the accommodation of our soldiers' faith practices, and this latest directive allows us to do that," Lieutenant Colonel Randy Taylor said in a statement.
Before the change, Sikh-Americans and others who wanted to wear their articles of faith had to be granted a limited accommodation or permission to serve in the Army. In some cases, these accommodations weren’t always guaranteed, but if they were, it was short-lived. Plus, they had to be renewed after nearly every assignment.
"This is a major progress, not just for the Sikh-American community but for our nation's military. Sikh-Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our country on equal footing. Today's announcement will help do just that," U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley said of the directive. "We are a stronger nation, with a stronger military because of our respect for religious and personal freedom."
The changes come after the U.S. Army opted to allow openly transgender people to serve in the military. That shift came after a 2010 rule that allowed openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve following the repeal of the Clinton Administration's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.
“We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in June when announcing the policy allowing transgender service members to serve openly.