The US Air Force has updated and broadened its dress code to allow turbans, beards, and hijabsby firstname.lastname@example.org (Haven Orecchio-Egresitz)
- The US Air Force has clarified grooming and uniform guidelines to allow religious exemptions for Sikhs and Muslims who wear turbans, hijabs, and beards.
- Airmen were previously allowed to make a request for religious accommodations, but they were granted case-by-case and it could take a while.
- In 2017, the US Army became the first military branch to allow head coverings and beards.
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The US Air Force has clarified a grooming and uniform process that allows religious exemptions for turbans, hijabs, and neatly trimmed beards, according to the new guidelines.
Sikh and Muslim airmen were previously allowed to make a request for religious accommodations, but the exemption to uniform and grooming guidelines was granted on a case-by-case basis and could take a while to be approved.
The new guidelines, approved on Feb. 7, require that accommodation be made within 30 days in the US.
"Today, the Sikh Coalition commends the United States Air Force's recent move to clarify the uniform and grooming accommodation process for religiously observant minorities, including Sikh Americans, who wish to serve," the coalition, an advocacy and civil rights organization, wrote in a statement. "Moreover, we are also proud to announce that our client, Airman 1st Class (A1C) Gurchetan Singh, is the first Sikh American to secure a religious accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard."
A handful of Sikhs and Muslims have previously received accommodations to serve in the Air Force.
Singh, originally from India, received his accommodation in September, according to the coalition. He became an American citizen in 2013 and was inspired to serve in the military.
He had a conversation with an Air National Guard recruiter while studying at the University of Washington and later contacted the Sikh Coalition for assistance in January 2019. The group submitted an accommodation request in April 2019.
"The Sikh Coalition has helped me realize my career dream while ensuring that I stay true to myself and my faith," Singh said in a written statement. "Their legal assistance means that I won't face discrimination as I step up to serve, and I'm proud to help clear the way for other Sikhs who may want to join the US Air Force by demonstrating that we can serve honorably while maintaining our articles of faith."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, also praised the new guidelines.
"We support these new guidelines as a step toward religious accommodation and inclusion for military personnel of all faiths," Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said in a written statement. "Thousands of American Muslims and members of other minority faiths serve in our nation's military and should be able to practice their faith while serving."
The US military has not always been a welcoming place for Muslim and Sikh people.
Army Spc. Cecilia Valdovinos, for example, was granted permission to wear her hijab while in uniform in June 2018, but was quickly met with "'extremely hateful' behavior."
She filed a complaint with the military's Equal Opportunity Office early last year after she said she was forced to remove her hijab in front of the other soldiers.
The Army, in 2017, became the first service branch to allow Muslim and Sikh soldiers to wear head coverings and beards.
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