Military to allow religious symbols

Members of the Norwegian military are now allowed to use religious symbols such as head coverings as part of their uniforms. Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, meanwhile, claimed this week that the military “will get better” in recruiting and attracting “the best heads” in general.

Now some of them may be wearing turbans, head scarves or skullcaps along with their uniforms. Major Tor Simen Olberg, who leads the field pastor corps for the Norwegian military, told newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad this week that the use of religious symbols with military uniforms had been approved as of July 1 this year.

Rules for use
Female soldiers who prefer wearing a head scarf, for example, will be able to do so if they wish, although there are rules for use. Olberg said the head covering “must by tied tightly around the head,” and not “hang freely.” The head gear allowed should be used in combination with the military uniform’s ordinary cap or hat in line with its branch of service.

Olberg also said that the list of religious symbols allowed is not long. In addition to the head gear mentioned, soldiers may use an arm band or bracelet with religious symbols either mounted or engraved on them. He revealed the new rules during a seminar on religion and conflicts that was held this week at NATO’s Joint Warfare Centre at Jåttå in Stavanger.

Not all politicians are pleased with the new rules that were quietly implemented this summer. Jan-Arild Ellingsen of the conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) was among the critics.

“The military should be independent of ethnic or religious ties,” Ellingsen told Stavanger Aftenblad. “It’s okay to have hidden symbols that show your religious affiliation, but it’s completely unnecessary to show them.”

Recruitment and retention efforts
Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, meanwhile, stressed at a meeting with new recruits at Norway’s defense college (Forsvarets høgskole) this week that “we shall be better in how we recruit and educate people in the military. We can have a better defense tomorrow if we make the right recruitment moves today.”

Eide claimed that modernization efforts and investment in, for example, new fighter jets is “taking the military into a new era … better able to deliver on the military’s assignments.” He said the military also had to compete “for the best heads” and that military leaders were making a “thorough evaluation of how we recruit, educate and retain the people who make up the modern military.”

He said the recruitment needs and efforts would be presented in a new report to the Norwegian Parliament on personnel and competence.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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