I have worn a uniform for all of my professional life, first as a member of the US Army and then as a State Trooper. Along the way I have worn a uniform as a member of sports teams, such as a player on a softball team participating in an emergency services league, and other endeavors that are senseless at my age. I have never put a uniform on that I was not proud of. To me, the uniform signifies membership in a group of folks who are all pulling in the same direction with the same goal in mind. The uniform is also utilitarian in as much as they identify status within a group or facilitate the carrying of certain equipment essential to the mission of the wearer. I accept the inevitability of change and have made an honest effort to acknowledge diversity as the hall mark of a civilized society.
My efforts along these lines have hit a wall and it will take professional help for me to embrace the wearing of beards, hibabs, turbans and headscarves by our military forces. These changes have been adopted by the US Army and Air Force, in an effort to permit the expression of religious preference and, let’s face it, personal preference that is hiding behind religious expression. I have never expected my readers to agree with every word that I punch into a writing, and if you are in strong disagreement with my position here, I understand. This would be the appropriate time for those who think I am hopelessly dated to move on to a more pleasant topic on this beautiful Sunday morning. My mind is not changing anytime soon.
The military, and virtually all accredited uniformed services have welcomed religious diversity. The military offers services for virtually every make and model of religious preference and you are welcome to pray your way whenever the need arises. Your blood type and religious preference is stamped on your dog tags, both useful pieces of information when you are shot through and in need of medical attention or, God forbid, beyond medical attention. It is your uniform that establishes your occupational responsibility, not your religious preference, when you become engaged. Unless involved in certain special operations, a beard is of no value, and a turban or hijab will provide far less protection than Kevlar. I do not recall ever having a conversation with a fellow soldier or trooper where his or her religious preference was critical to the job at hand. As far as I am concerned, you can wear a fruit salad on your head when you are off duty…….
Finally, there is this matter of tradition, a word that is fast leaving our vocabulary. A well maintained mustache and a clean haircut are what I expected as a police commander. I was particularly keen on footwear and headgear, both signs of discipline and self pride. In the Army, I was taught and expected to “break starch” in the utility uniform that I mostly wore. I relied upon one pocket among many to carry a few dollars and driver’s license. The rest were starched closed. This was tradition. I am guessing that an in-rank inspection today requires a working knowledge of the proper way to wear a habib, a ruler to measure the length of beards, the right way to wear a turban or the ability to judge the quality of a head scarf. Soon to come will be a manual on the wearing of the yarmulke, kippah or zucchetto.
When you see an old soldier or trooper walking down a sidewalk muttering to himself about what has happened to his beloved organization, smile and give him a little space. You might also cover the ears of your children as he is likely expressing himself in terms that are offensive. Don’t ask him what is wrong………as he or she will damned sure tell you. That is also a part of our “tradition”.
Have a great day!