Air Force allows first Sikh airman to wear turban and beard

PHOTO: U.S. Air Force airman, Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, shown in this undated photo, will be the first Sikh active-duty airman to serve with a beard, turban, and unshorn hair.PlayACLU
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The Air Force has agreed to a historic accommodation for a Sikh airman, saying that he will be allowed to maintain a beard and unshorn hair and wear a turban in observance of his faith.

The first-generation American, Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, will be exempted from the Air Force's grooming and dress rules, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement on Thursday.

"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."

PHOTO: U.S. Air Force airman, Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, shown in this undated photo, will be the first Sikh active-duty airman to serve with a beard, turban, and unshorn hair. ACLU
U.S. Air Force airman, Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, shown in this undated photo, will be the first Sikh active-duty airman to serve with a beard, turban, and unshorn hair.

Last year, the Air Force granted the first Muslim airman an exemption to wear a beard while in uniform, and in 2017 the U.S. Army said it would allow turbans and hijabs.

"The Air Force can confirm that Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa was granted a religious accommodation in accordance with Air Force policy." Maj. Nicholas Mercurio, an Air Force spokesman told ABC News.

"The Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all."

Sikhs keep their unshorn hair tied in a bun or a top knot on top of their head. The hair is then covered by a turban which compromises the daily uniform of a Sikh. For Sikhs, wearing a turban form is an "external identity" according to the Sikh Coalition.