US Air Force issues new guidelines for beards, turbans and hijabs

Airman 1st Class (A1C) Gurchetan Singh (top, right). Two photos (middle) taken from the 144-page USAF accommodation document. Main background photo taken from Air National Guard document – Photo: Asia Samachar
By Asia Samachar UNITED STATES |

Practicing Sikhs and Muslims intending to serve the US Air Force can breath a sigh of relief as the wing of the world’s most powerful armed forces clarifies the uniform and grooming accommodation process.

The new policy, outlined in a 144-page document finalised last week, outlines a clear approval process for Sikhs and Muslims who want to serve while wearing their articles of faith like the turban or the hijab; or maintain beards and unshorn hair.

Under the guidelines, Sikhs and Muslims can seek a religious accommodation for turbans, beards, unshorn hair and hijabs which will be dealt with within 30 days for cases in the United States.

In welcoming the move, New York-based civil rights organization Sikh Coalition also announced that Airman 1st Class (A1C) Gurchetan Singh had secured a religious accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard, making him the first Sikh American to do so.

It added: “Our ultimate goal in engaging the U.S. military remains to secure permanent policy changes that end discrimination by our nation’s largest employer: the U.S. Department of Defense. Achieving that victory will be critical to ending discrimination in workplaces across the country,’ it said in a statement.

In September 2019, Sunjit Singh Rathour became the first Sikh airman to complete the USAF basic training and advanced technical training while wearing a turban, beard, and unshorn hair, in compliance with his Sikh religious beliefs.

Commenting on the turban and under-turban, the USAF document, viewed online by Asia Samachar, said that an accommodated Airman may wear a turban (or under-turban or patka, as appropriate) made of a subdued material in a color that closely resembles the headgear for an assigned uniform.

It goes on to say: “Wing Commanders may designate conditions where the under-turban will be worn instead of the turban. The turban or underturban will be worn in a neat and conservative manner that presents a professional and well-groomed appearance. The material will be free of designs or markings, except that an Airman wearing the ABU or OCP may wear a turban or under-turban in a camouflage pattern matching the uniform.

“When directed by a Commander, the Airman may be required to wear an under-turban made of fire resistant material. Unless duties, position, or assignment require an Airman to wear protective headgear, Airmen granted this accommodation are not required to wear military headgear in addition to the turban or under-turban. Rank will be displayed on the turban or under-turban when worn in circumstances where military headgear is customarily worn and removed in circumstances where military headgear is not customarily worn, such as indoors or in no-hat/no-salute designated areas.

“Hair worn under the turban or under-turban is not subject to paragraph 3.1.2. standards, but may not fall over the ears or eyebrows or touch the collar while in uniform. When Airmen are wearing protective headgear with the under-turban, the bulk of the hair will be repositioned or adjusted to ensure proper fit.”


Jaspreet Singh cut his hair to join US Air Force. Now, he proudly dons his turban. (Asia Samachar, 19 Dec 2019)

US Sikh airman makes history Asia Samachar, 28 Sept 2019)

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