Aussie Army Welcomes Sikhs

SPECIAL helmets that accommodate turbans and uniforms incorporating burkas are part of a push to build a more diverse Au...

SPECIAL helmets that accommodate turbans and uniforms incorporating burkas are part of a push to build a more diverse Australian Army.

Army chiefs are hoping to attract bigger numbers of multicultural recruits, especially those of Arabic and Indian descent.

Among the changes being considered are specially designed helmets that fit turbans worn by Sikhs.

Army Commodore Tim Barrett, director of recruiting, said the army wanted to change community perceptions that it was intolerant of some nationalities.

An advertising campaign would begin next month with defence members from non-English-speaking backgrounds encouraging others to join, he said.

"We are looking particularly at Indian and Arabic communities," he said.

"We are preparing a multicultural recruitment strategy, part of which is an advertising campaign, but more importantly we want to make sure that when they do join we can accommodate their particular cultural and religious needs."

Burkas and head scarfs for female recruits were also being considered, but there were some safety concerns regarding vision and movement, Commodore Barrett said.

Prayer rooms will also be built on navy ships and at army barracks.

"Where people wish to practise their religious beliefs and it does not affect operations or safety, we should be making those opportunities available," Commodore Barrett said.

"In a ship it may mean that certain places facing certain directions are set aside."

Dr Mark Thompson, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said this was an important mission for the army as they wanted their ranks to reflect society.

While 21 per cent of Australians are from a non Anglo-Celtic background, in the army the figure was only 5 per cent, he said.

"They want to plan things well, as all good military staff do, they want to work out what the best options are so they can get the most advantage from the initiative," Dr Thompson said.

"They are hoping that in the second part of this year they will go to the Government because, of course, the Government needs to tick off on these things."

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