Sikh-American Becomes First Air Force Member Allowed To Keep His Turban, Beard On Duty

Sikh-American Becomes First Air Force Member Allowed To Keep His Turban, Beard On Duty

Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa just became the first active duty airman in the U.S Air Force to be allowed to wear a beard and turban while serving.

Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, a crew chief at the McChord Air Force Base near Lakewood, Washington, just became the first active duty airman in the US Air Force to be allowed to wear his turban and keep his beard while serving, a group that assisted with the accommodation told CNN





Bajwa was granted the accommodation in March after he made a request for it in coordination with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance. The Air Force Times first reported the news yesterday. Bajwa, a first-generation American born to a family of immigrants, enlisted for the Air Force in 2017.

Bajwa is a practitioner of the Sikh religion, and they traditionally tie their unshorn hair in a bun on their head, covered by a turban. The Rehat Maryada -  the code of conduct and conventions for Sikhism - explicitly directs that Sikh men should not cut their hair or shave, and must wear a turban.

However, this conflicts with current Air Force regulations on uniform and grooming appearances, and thus Bajwa was not permitted to practice this section of his beliefs when he joined the Air Force. Bajwa said that he was overjoyed that the Air Force had finally granted his religious accommodation. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity," he said.



Bajwa told The Air Force Times that his superior officers were supportive when he initially asked if he could request the waiver, during tech training in South Carolina. The airman credits the combined efforts of Air Force Leadership, the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for his success in being granted permission three months ago to adhere to his faith in uniform.  

Lt. Col. Kamal Kalsi, the president of SAVA, told CNN that Bajwa's application took "nearly six months of basically going back and forth with paperwork, pushing the Pentagon to do the right thing." Kalsi added that practicing Sikhs should not have to choose between serving and their faith. "This is a one-off individual accommodation and we're looking forward to the day when Sikhs can walk into the Air Force recruiting office and join just like any other American," he said. 



Kalsi continued, "I’m proud to see Bajwa become the first active Airman allowed to wear his Sikh articles of faith while in uniform. Sikhs have a long history of serving in militaries around the world, and I’m confident that Airman Bajwa will represent that tradition honorably.” Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, also commended the Air Force’s decision.

“No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country," she said in a press release. "We’re pleased that the Air Force granted our client’s request, and we hope that all branches of the military come to recognize the importance of religious inclusion and diversity.” Bajwa's accommodation comes three years after Simratpal Singh, a Sikh captain in the U.S Army, became the first active duty soldier to seek and receive the accommodation while serving in the army, according to The Sikh Coalition.  


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