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Sikh American to be first in Air Force allowed to keep turban and beard on active duty

"Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity."
Image: Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa
Active Airman Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa is the first Sikh active-duty airman to serve with a beard, turban, and unshorn hair.ACLU

The United States Air Force has given a religious accommodation to a Sikh airman, making him the first active-duty airman allowed to maintain a turban and beard during his service.

Airman Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa was granted an accommodation allowing him to wear his articles of faith — including a turban, beard, and unshorn hair — during active duty, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) said in a Thursday press release.

“Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity,” Bajwa said in the release.

Bajwa, who joined the Air Force in 2017, was unable to follow the practice due to the military branch's grooming and dress codes. The Air Force granted him an accommodation after Bajwa gained representation from the Sikh American Veterans Alliance, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2016, Capt. Simratpal Singh, a decorated Sikh-American officer and combat veteran, received a long-term religious accommodation from the U.S. Army to serve with long hair, a beard, and turban. The Army updated its regulations the following year directing commanders to allow accommodations for observant Sikhs.

Heather L. Weaver, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU, praised the Air Force's decision.

"No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country," Weaver said. "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.”