‘I felt naked,’ says Muslim soldier ordered to remove her hijab. But Army pushes back

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos filed a complaint after she says she was ordered to remove her hijab at Fort Carson in Colorado.
Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos filed a complaint after she says she was ordered to remove her hijab at Fort Carson in Colorado. Screen grab of @ArmyTimes on Twitter

A Muslim soldier with the U.S. Army says “I felt naked” and discriminated when she was ordered to remove her hijab while at Fort Carson, the Colorado Springs Independent reported.

In a March 7 complaint filed with the Mountain Post’s equal opportunity office, Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos said she was discriminated against when forced to remove the religious head scarf at the chapel on Fort Carson in Colorado, according to the Independent.

“To me, it was the same thing as if they had asked someone to take their top off,” she said, according to the Army Times. Valdovinos says she was forced to remove the hijab by a senior non-commissioned officer while at a suicide prevention meeting in the chapel on March 6.

Valdovinos, 26, “has an approved exemption from her brigade commander to wear a hijab in uniform,” the Times reported, but she says her senior officer thought her hair wasn’t following regulations underneath the scarf.

Regulations passed in 2017 say soldiers can wear turbans, beards and hijabs “under most circumstances,” USA Today reported at the time.

“The scarf also has to be worn close to the hair and jaw lines, so not covering any part of the face, and the ends have to be tucked into the uniform top,” the Army Times reported in 2017.

Hair underneath the hijab must also be in a “regulation bun,” the Times reported, and Army officials say Valdovinos was not following protocol.

“It would have been IMPOSSIBLE for this (Command Sgt. Maj.) to have even SEEN the hair of our ... client,” president Michael Weinstein with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation wrote in a statement. “Indeed, even if this CSM DID have X-Ray vision, our client’s hair was neatly tucked beneath her under-cap, completely in accord with Army appearance regulations.”

Valdovinos says her officer told her to remove the hijab “so she could ‘see my hair,’” the Independent reported.

“Upon removing her hijab it was evident her hair was completely down,” Capt. Brooke Smith said in a statement obtained by the Times. “CSM (Kerstin) Montoya told her to get her hair back in regulation and not let it happen again.”

Fort Carson officials say Valdovinos’ “hair was completely down, which is not allowed while in uniform,” the Independent reported.

But Valdovinos says that’s not true.

She told the Times that her hair was tied up, but that the bun became loose when taking the hijab off, the Times reported.

“Their mendacious and twisted ‘version’ of what transpired is an absolutely repulsive exacerbation of an already horrific incident of racist anti-Muslim prejudice,” Weinstein said in his statement.

Valdovinos also says she was grabbed by an arm, the Independent reports, but the Army says she wasn’t touched.

A Fort Carson spokeswoman told the Times that officials are investigating, and “command will take appropriate action.”

Valdovinos is willing to take a lie-detector test, according to a statement from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

The Foundation says that if this incident is not “resolved swiftly,” it will be “seeking remediation for our client and just punishment of the Army perpetrators” by filing a complaint with the United States Civil Rights Commission.

Local Muslim and non-Muslim women gathered in uptown Charlotte to celebrate World Hijab Day.