A pagan soldier has become the first ever to be allowed to serve with a beard because of his Norse religious beliefs.
Sgt 1st Class Benjamin Hopper of the Nevada Army Guard is the first pagan guard soldier to receive a religious accommodation allowing him to sport facial hair.
The 34 year-old Alabama native says he has been a Norse pagan for the past two decades, and that his religion sees beards as being a sacred and defining feature of masculine men.
Hopper explained: ‘My personal faith is deeply tied to the modern warrior lifestyle that I have been able to live during my military carer.
‘In short, it is honoring the pillars of heathenism, our ancestors and ancient gods and way of life.’
US Army rules only permit soldiers to wear a mustache, and stipulate that the rest of a male soldier’s face must be clean-shaven.
And Hopper says his own facial hair – which must be less than two inches long – has caused some confusion among his seniors, which he hopes his official written exemption will finally allay once and for all.
Hopper, who is currently on deployment in Afghanistan, told USA Today: ‘Regardless of why, the wearing of a beard while in uniform does tend to raise a number of questions.
‘I’ve been brought before some fairly high-ranking individuals to explain the situation as it is a newer process in the Army.’
Two other pagan soldiers serving with the Nevada Army Guard are now applying to have the same exemption applied to their own facial hair.
The US Army says it reserves the right to order Hopper to shave his beard off should he face a ‘threat of toxic exposure’ while serving in the Middle East.
Joint Force State Chaplain Major Donald Crandell said he and his staff are happy to field genuine requests for exemptions from current appearance guidelines.
But he said Hopper’s facial hair would not be allowed to send a trend among non-pagan servicemen, explaining: ‘We are not actively promoting a trend in this direction or seeking to normalize it.’
The US Military’s existing guidelines allow for servicemen and women who are Sikh or Muslim to wear a turban, beard or hijab in accordance with their religious beliefs.