A Nevada Army Guard soldier serving in Afghanistan has received a uniform religious exception to sport a beard based upon his Norse pagan beliefs.
The Nevada Army Guard said this month Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hopper is the first guard soldier to receive a religious accommodation approval for a beard.
Norse paganism is a polytheistic religion that is based on ancient beliefs and practices associated with the geographic area of Scandinavia.
Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hopper of the Nevada Army National Guard has received a uniform religious exception to sport a beard based upon his Norse pagan beliefs. He said: ‘My personal faith is deeply tied to the modern warrior lifestyle that I have been able to live during my military career’
Norse paganism is a polytheistic religion that is based on ancient beliefs and practices associated with the geographic area of Scandinavia. Pictured right, Thor son of Woden or Odin, the second god. Left is ‘Thor’s Hammer’ amulet from the Viking period. From the National Museum’s collection in Copenhagen
Hopper, 34, of Madison, Alabama, said he has been practicing his Norse pagan faith for about two decades and he noted his beliefs complement the Army Warrior ethos.
It comes after in 2017, the Defense Department expanded their list of recognized faiths and shared how troops can apply for a waiver that will let them wear a beard of items such as a turban and headscarf.
The Army and Air Force then granted waivers for Sikh and Muslim service members of the faiths.
They say four soldiers and four airmen declare paganism as their religion. Eight soldiers and three airmen in the Nevada Guard list Islam as their religion.
‘The Army will approve requests for accommodation of religious practices, unless accommodation will adversely affect military necessity, including unit readiness, individual readiness, and health and/or safety for soldiers and units,’ All Army Activities message No. 002/2019 states.
Joint Force State Chaplain Maj. Donald Crandell said they will work to accommodate genuine requests from military but it isn’t ‘actively promoting a trend in this direction or seeking to normalize it’
Those requesting a religious waiver must submit their written request to the General Court-Martial Convening Authority officer.
The package must also include a chaplain’s interview memorandum, a legal review, and recommendations from their chain of command.
He cited documents on the Norse beard that underscore the fact beards are seen as a sacred and defining feature of masculine men.
‘My personal faith is deeply tied to the modern warrior lifestyle that I have been able to live during my military career,’ Hopper said. ‘In short, it is honoring the pillars of heathenism, our ancestors and ancient gods and way of life.’
Hopper said his beard has led to several inquiries while he’s been deployed.
‘Regardless of why, the wear of a beard while in uniform does tend to raise a number of questions,’ Hopper said. ‘I’ve been brought before some fairly high-ranking individuals to explain the situation as it is a newer process in the Army.’
He has been in Afghanistan for two months and makes sure to keep the waiver on him at all times in case he runs into a problem.
‘Once I present my memorandum for record and cite all of the applicable regulations and directives, the focus on the beard tends to go away, for the most part,’ he said. ‘I see it as a phase very similar to when the Army authorized the wear of black socks during the fitness test. It is something new and authorized, and you will always encounter people who do not like change. That is just life.’
Other than that he says the facial hair causes him no problems. He must keep it no more than 2 inches long and the waiver may be taken away if there’s a ‘threat of toxic exposure’.
‘I have had absolutely no hindrance to my professional performance or accomplishment of the mission due to my beard while deployed in Afghanistan,’ Hopper said. ‘I do get up a little earlier than others to make sure it is in accordance with AR 670-1, but that is about it.’
According to the Nevada Guard’s Chaplain’s Office, two other pagan soldiers also are pursuing a waiver to wear a beard.
Joint Force State Chaplain Maj. Donald Crandell said his staff is glad to help soldiers and airmen obtain sincere requests for accommodation.
‘The chaplain corps will work with any military member to aid them in a genuine pursuit of an accommodation,’ Crandell said.
‘However, we are not actively promoting a trend in this direction or seeking to normalize it.’