USAF Special Operations approves first beard, turban waiver for Sikh Airman

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dominic Varriale, a geospatial intelligence analyst with the 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron, poses for a portrait at Hurlburt Field, Florida, July 17, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joseph P. Leveille)
By Oriana Pawlyk | |

In a first for the command, Air Force Special Operations Command has granted a religious accommodation waiver to a Sikh airman.

Senior Airman Dominic Varriale was granted the waiver last month, according to an Air Force release. He serves as a geospatial intelligence analyst with the 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron.

With the help of his command leadership and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA), an advocacy organization, Varriale was able to expedite the approval process, which normally takes up to three years, to only three months, the release states.

“[The SAVA] sent me Air Force Instruction-approved religious articles of faith such as my operational camouflage pattern-colored turban,” said Varriale, of Long Branch, New Jersey. “They also made it possible for me to speak to a Gurdwara [a Sikh place of assembly or worship] back in my hometown to get a proper letter of sincerity from a Sikh Temple.”

Lt. Col. Brian Lightsey, commander of the 11th SOIS, said Varriale welcomed the news when he found out about the approval June 7.

“His reaction was immediate: It was part relief, part a sense of pride, but most importantly, it was evident to everyone in the room that it meant a great deal to him,” Lightsey said. “Senior Airman Varriale was always a capable analyst beforehand, but I sincerely believe the practicing of his faith has provided the extra motivation to hone his craft as a mission analyst and to improve as an airman.”

In February, the Air Force updated its dress and appearance policy, creating a comprehensive process for airmen to request waivers for religious apparel such as hijabs and turbans or facial hair worn for religious reasons. The policy update requires that airmen keep their appearance “neat and conservative.”


Read full story, ‘Air Force Special Operations Approves First Beard, Turban Waiver for Sikh Airman’ (, 30 July 2020), here.


Second-gen Sikh officer in US armed forces. Proud to serve! (Asia Samachar, 7 July 2020)

US Air Force issues new guidelines for beards, turbans and hijabs (Asia Samachar, 14 Feb 2020)

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