Markings disrupt unit cohesion
By Linus Chhun
Earlier this month, new regulations were passed to allow soldiers to more easily attain accommodations to wear identifiable religious markings. Such markings include turbans and hijabs, which are worn by Muslims and Sikhs, skullcaps, which are worn by Jews, and beards, which are required by the Sikh, Amish, and Muslims.
While some say that inclusive attire is a step towards unity and peace in the military, it will only increase the chances of those with religious attire to be targeted by racial hate crimes and mistaken on battlefields as the enemy. Not only that, but bearing religious markings also disrupts unit cohesion, making it more difficult for soldiers to stay alive during the time spent on the battlefield.
According to the New York Times, on Feb. 29, Captain Simratpal Singh, a Sikh combat soldier, sued the Defense Department, stating that his beard and turban had made him a target of religious discrimination. Singh was ordered to undergo three days of performance testing to determine whether his beard and hair would interfere with the functions of the helmet and gas mask, while no other soldiers with beards were subjected to the same test.
“If they want to do a study on beards and gas masks and include a variety of soldiers, including Sikhs, by all means. But to do a test with only one soldier while his religious accommodation decision is pending, that’s unreasonable,” stated Amandeep S. Sidhu, the lawyer representing Singh.
According to militaryculturecoalition.com, a website providing information regarding current military issues, unit cohesion is a military concept that allows soldiers to bond and sustain each other. It is essential in order for the unit to survive under war conditions.
In a 1992 report titled “Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces,” cohesion was described as members sharing common values and experiences, conforming to group norms and behavior in order to ensure group survival and goals, losing one’s identity in favor of a group identity, and meeting all standards of performance and behavior in order to prevent threats to group survival.
Religious accommodations enforce an individual identity that puts unit cohesion in jeopardy and could very well result in unwanted consequences, specifically, deaths and fatalities of group members.
Making religious accommodations more accessible for soldiers endangers them and their unit. The solution to the conflict over soldiers’ visible religious markings is simple: do not allow religious accommodations in the army. This policy would minimize the risk of danger and fatalities to all soldiers within units, reduce religious discrimination in the military, and help maintain unity on the battlefield.