Indian American Sikh Airman Allowed Turban, Beard on Duty in U.S. Air Force

FREMONT, CA: Accommodating the religious sentiments of Sikh airman the U.S. Air Force, in a first, have granted Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa permission to serve with a turban, beard, and unshorn hair in compliance with his Sikh religious beliefs.

With this, Bajwa, a crew chief at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, has become the first one in the U.S. Air Force with such a privilege and authorization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) said in a statement.

“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” Bajwa said in the statement. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”

As per the U.S. Air Force grooming and dress rules, all soldiers must maintain clean facial appearance with cut hair not exceeding 1 ¼ inch in bulk, regardless of length. Bajwa, who wanted to follow the Sikh traditions, had inquired with Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) about the same after learning about similar exceptional permissions given to service members in U.S. Army and Air Force. SAVA connected Bajwa with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which then filed a petition with the air force, which was accepted, and the accommodation request was granted.

 “No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU. ‘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.”

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