When the Army authorized beards for religious soldiers in early 2017, the move was a response to years of requests — and a lawsuit — from Sikh soldiers seeking to both serve and adhere to the tenets of their faith.
But the directive, technically, applied to all religions.
And that includes Norse pagans, also known as heathens, according to an undated memo from the 14th Military Police Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
“I grant your accommodation, subject to the standards and limitations described below,” commander Col. Curtis Shroeder wrote to a 795th Military Police Battalion soldier, whose name is redacted from a copy of the memo circulating on Facebook.
“In observance of your Heathen; Norse Pagan faith, you may wear a beard, in accordance with Army uniform and grooming standards for soldiers with approved religious accommodations.”
Per the latest version of AR 670-1, beards with approved accommodations must be less than 2 inches long, measured from the bottom of the chin, and cannot be groomed with any petroleum-based products.
While beards are required by religious tenet for practicing Sikhs, the rules are murkier for heathens.
According to the Open Halls Project, an advocacy group for heathens serving in the military, the beard is a beloved tradition, but not a requirement.
“There is no religious requirement for beards in Heathenry,” according to a 2017 post about beards. “Sikhs are allowed to wear beards and turbans because it actually is a religious requirement of their faith that they do so. Kesh, or ‘uncut hair’ is one of the five religious requirements of baptized Sikhs. We, as Heathens, have no such religious requirement with regards to hair.”
A Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, spokeswoman confirmed to Army Times the memo’s authenticity.
“All proper procedures outlined in Army Directives 2017-03 and 2016-34 were followed when requesting and approving this religious accommodation,” Tiffany Wood told Army Times on Monday.
Authorizing a heathen beard is a big step in a long road for soldiers who practice Norse paganism.
As of 2015, the Army had accepted a request to add the religion to its list of faith codes, but before final approval, the Pentagon initiated a review of all religions recognized by the Defense Department.
However, the Hammer of Thor is still authorized for placement on military cemetery headstones, per a 2013 decision.
When the Army authorized beards for Sikh soldiers, a change years in the making, the move begged the question: If the Army says it’s safe for Sikhs to wear beards, what about everyone else?
As for beards in general, the Army has not announced a final decision on authorizing facial hair across the service.