U.S. Muslim Soldier Ordered to Remove Hijab

MRFF cites the incident as a blatant instance of Islamophobia.

Sergeant Cesilia Valdovinos, a soldier in the United States Army who identifies as a Muslim, was asked to take off her hijab by Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Kerstin Montoya during a briefing on suicide prevention at a Fort Carson chapel in Colorado. According to Sergeant Valdovinos, the CSM on March 6 compelled her to remove the garment in public view. CSM Montoya believed the 26-year-old soldier, who had already secured an exemption from the brigade commander to wear a hijab while on active duty in uniform, wore her hair underneath the garment in a style not approved by army regulations.

Sergeant Valdovinos, attached to the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, was shaken by the sequence of events. According to her, taking her hijab off is equivalent to asking her to take her blouse off. She said nobody questioned her as to whether her hair was in the army approved regulation bun before she was ordered to take off the garment. The sergeant claimed at first she undid some of the scarf covering her head but was then ordered to expose her hair fully. The moment she removed the cap located between the hijab and her hair, the latter came loose, and the bun shape which was there lost its shape.

Observers of the incident have supported CSM Montoya in their version of events. Captain Brooke Smith, the battalion adjutant, recalled that the CSM has only tapped Sergeant Valdovinos on her shoulder and then led her to the outside of the chapel. The captain stated when Valdivinos removed her hijab her hair went completely down. The CSM then ordered the sergeant to get the hair back in regulation style, and such laxity should not be repeated. Smith insisted at no time did Montoya yell at the soldier or touch her (at least in front of or in earshot of other military personnel).

Valdovinos’ seniors have taken note of the incident. Colonel David Zinn, the commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said he takes a serious note of all soldiers disrespecting their combat colleagues’ religious traditions, observances, or beliefs. Zinn is also the senior person who signed the exemption memo as requested by Valdovinos. He confirmed the existence of an inquiry of the claim made by the sergeant. Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) claimed the inspection was a clear case of Islamophobia.

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