Hawzah News Agency (Colorado, US) – Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was at a chapel at Fort Carson, Colorado, for a suicide prevention briefing on March 6 when she says her command sergeant major grabbed her by the arm, took her outside and made her remove her religious head covering in front of others.
“To me, it was the same thing as if they had asked someone to take their top off,” the soldier, a member of the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, said.
No one had asked her whether her hair was in a regulation bun, she added, before demanding that she remove the garment.
She took off the scarf portion of the covering first, she said, but Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya demanded she completely expose her hair. When she removed the cap underneath, which covers her hairline and underneath her chin, the length of hair came loose from its bun.
The battalion adjutant, who accompanied Valdovinos and Montoya for the inspection, says that the senior NCO tapped the sergeant on her shoulder before leading her outside of the chapel.
“Upon removing her hijab it was evident her hair was completely down,” Capt. Brooke Smith said in a statement. “CSM Montoya told her to get her hair back in regulation and not let it happen again. At no point did CSM Montoya touch the soldier or yell at her (at all or within earshot of other soldiers).”
Valdovinos claims her hair was tied up under the hijab. The under-cap has an extra length of fabric inside, she explained, that she wraps around her bun to secure it before pulling the cap down. That’s why her hair came loose when she removed it, she said.
It was the first time since receiving her waiver that the soldier had ever been confronted about her hijab, she said. But not the first she felt targeted as a Muslim in the Army.
In an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint filed on March 7, she said, she described her first sergeant referring to her as “the girl with the hood.” A culinary specialist, she said, she was recently reassigned from an on-post dining facility to her battalion’s headquarters company after objecting to cooking pork products.