A decorated US Army captain has become the first active-duty combat soldier in decades allowed to wear a beard for religious reasons. Simratpal Singh—who had to cut off the long hair and beard his religion requires when he signed up almost a decade ago—was granted a temporary exemption last month while his case is considered and can now grow a beard and wrap his hair in a turban again, reports the New York Times. "It is wonderful. I had been living a double life, wearing a turban only at home," Singh, who won the Bronze Star for leading a platoon of combat engineers in Afghanistan, tells the Times. "My two worlds have finally come back together." The Army has yet to decide whether the exemption will be made permanent.
The religious-beard ban was introduced in 1984, and a handful of other Sikhs, as well as two Muslim soldiers and a rabbi, have been granted exemptions in recent years. But Singh is the first combat soldier to be granted a religious exemption, and experts say his case will set a precedent, reports the Times, which notes that around 100,000 soldiers have been allowed to grow beards for medical reasons like sensitive skin. Earlier this month, 27 retired Army and Air Force generals asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to lift the ban, arguing that "Sikh Americans should be given an equal opportunity to serve in the US Armed Forces without violating their religious obligations," Military.com reports.