The US Air Force granted a religious accommodation to a Sikh airman to allow him to wear a turban, beard and unshorn hair while serving, making him the first active duty airman to receive such an accommodation, a group that assisted with the accommodation told CNN Friday.
Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, a crew chief at the McChord Air Force Base near Lakewood, Washington, was granted the accommodation in March after he made a request for it in coordination with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance, Lt. Col. Kamal Kalsi, the president of SAVA, told CNN.
“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” Bajwa said in a statement released this week by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”
The Air Force Times first reported the news.
Kalsi said Bajwa and the groups waited to announce the accommodation while the airman was growing out his beard and trying to figure out how to wear his turban with his uniform.
Bajwa does mechanical work for the Air Force, Kalsi said, and according to the statement from SALDEF, he’s been in the military since 2017.
His accommodation request took “nearly six months of basically going back and forth with paperwork, pushing the Pentagon to do the right thing,” Kalsi told CNN.
“This is a one-off individual accommodation and we’re looking forward to the day when Sikhs can walk into the Air Force recruiting office and join just like any other American,” he said, adding that Sikhs should “not have to choose between serving and their faith.”
Bajwa’s accommodation comes three years after Simratpal Singh, an Army captain who is Sikh, became the first active duty soldier to seek the religious accommodation and receive it while serving in the Army, according to The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh American advocacy organization in the United States.
CNN’s Nadeen Shaker contributed to this report.