Jaspreet Singh cut his hair when he joined the U.S. Air Force. He knew the rules and complied with the military’s regulations.
For Singh, though, that did not mean just a close haircut. It also meant not being able to wear his turban – a central part of his Sikhism religion.
Now, the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst airman first class, who works on the base’s fire service, is the third member of the Air Force granted a religious accommodation to wear a turban with his uniform. (The prior two were granted earlier this year.)
“It’s more about identity for me,” Singh said in a story posted on the base’s website. “When I got that first haircut [in basic military training] I felt like I lost everything. Losing that made me realize that I don’t want to lose who I am.”
Singh was born in India and moved to the United States as a child. His family name Singh comes from the Indian word for lion, and many baptized male Sikhs who take the name – after Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final human guru – are considered to be bold warriors, like a lion, the story said.
By wearing the turban, a camouflage one, Singh says he’s building cultural awareness in and out of his Air Force uniform.
“People are learning; it’s diversifying the Air Force itself,” Singh said. “Me wearing a turban will make people more aware of what a Sikh is.”
Before cutting his hair for the Air Force, Singh said he wore a turban for 17 years, as does his father. “My parents still wanted me and my siblings to know where we came from. On Sundays we would learn about our culture and heritage,” he said.
Singh started the accommodation process shortly after arriving at the base, and it took two years.
First, he talked to a chaplain, then his supervisor, and then drafted a memo expressing his wishes, and it was sent it up the chain of command. Religious accommodations require that an airman’s expression of sincerely held beliefs must be respected as long as it does not have an adverse effect on mission accomplishment, the story said.
“It’s awesome that Singh can practice his religion again,” Air Force Staff Sgt. Jory White, of the 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron said. White is Singh’s supervisor, where they work on fire truck refueling and maintenance. “As supervisors we should support our Airmen. I’m just glad I could be a part of that.”
Singh said he knows he sticks out while in uniform, but so does the lion, the king of the jungle, he said in the story.
“When you see him walking along you know who he is. With my turban, even down the street you know ‘that’s a Singh, that’s a Sikh,’” he said.
© 2019 NJ Advance Media Group
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