By Kristine Froeba | AIR FORCE TIMES | US |
For the first time, the Air Force has granted a Sikh airman permission to wear a turban, beard and long hair, following the practices of his faith.
Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, a crew chief at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, is now the first active airman who has been authorized to adhere to Sikh religious grooming and dress principles while serving in the Air Force.
“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” said Bajwa. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”
A first-generation American, born to an immigrant family, Bajwa enlisted in the Air Force in 2017, eager to give back by serving his country. At the time, he was not permitted to practice certain Sikh beliefs due to Air Force grooming and dress rules.
An Army directive authorizing beards for soldiers based on their religion applies to all religions — as evidenced from this recent memo from a brigade commander.
Sikhs tie their hair in a bun on top of their head, which is then covered by a turban. In the Rehat Maryada, the code of conduct and conventions for Sikhism, it is explicitly written that Sikh men do not cut their hair, shave and must wear a turban. The Rehat Maryada, however, conflicts with current Air Force regulations on uniform and grooming appearances.
In 2018, the Air Force granted its first religious accommodation beard waiver to a Muslim airman, allowing him to wear a beard while in uniform. Previously, the only exceptions for active-duty personnel were medical waivers. There are also exceptions for Air Force Reservists serving less than 30 days.
“I’m extremely happy I can practice my faith and serve my country,” said Bajwa.
14 Sikh high schoolers get waivers to enter US army basic with beard, turban (Asia Samachar, 3 May 2019)
Rakhvinder Singh shines at Malaysian navy cadet officer graduation (Asia Samachar, 18 March 2019)