JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
An Airman assigned to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, is among the first in the U.S. Air Force approved to wear a turban as a regulated uniform item. After nearly two years, Airman 1st Class Jaspreet Singh, 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron fire truck and refueling maintenance apprentice, finally puts on an Operational Camouflage Pattern turban as part of his uniform.
Singh was born in India and came to the U.S. as a child. His family name “Singh” comes from the Indian word “Lion”. The name is adopted by many baptized male Sikhs in accordance with the instruction of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final human “Guru” (spiritual guide).
“For 17 years of my life I wore a turban alongside my dad,” said Singh. “My parents still wanted me and my siblings to know where we came from. On Sundays we would learn about our culture and heritage.”
The 17-year old joined the Air Force knowing that he would have to sacrifice wearing his turban to comply with standards. In Basic Military Training, Singh talked to a chaplain to see what he would be allowed to do under religious accommodation. Religious accommodation is detailed under Air Force Instruction 52-2. It requires 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.
“It’s more about identity for me,” said Singh. “When I got that first haircut [in BMT] I felt like I lost everything. Losing that made me realize that I don’t want to lose who I am.”
In Sikhism, the men who take on the tenth Guru’s last name are considered to be bold warriors, like a lion. By wearing the turban, Singh sees himself taking on the role of building cultural awareness in his community and the Air Force as a whole.
“People are learning; it’s diversifying the Air Force itself,” said Singh. “Me wearing a turban will make people more aware of what a Sikh is.”
When he got to his first base, Singh began the waiver application process with his supervisor. His supervisor sent up the religious accommodation waiver after it had been verified by the base chaplain.
“In order for the request to go forward the member has to draft a memo saying ‘this is what I want and why,’” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gregory Ellis, 87th Air Base Wing chaplain. “We interview the Airman and get the facts on the background of their faith experience [and] their spiritual experience. We gather the most information we can and present it to the commander.”
If however the request for accommodation deviates from Air Force policy, such as replacing a uniform item, it will be sent up to the Pentagon for review.
The Air Force granted permission for two other Airmen to wear a turban and beard earlier this year. Now, Singh is the third Airman in the entire U.S. Air Force authorized to wear a turban in uniform.
“It’s awesome that Singh can practice his religion again,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jory White, 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron, NCO in charge of fire truck maintenance and supervisor of Singh. “As supervisors we should support our Airmen. I’m just glad I could be a part of that.”
Singh now wears his culture while simultaneously wearing the service uniform.
“A lion is considered the king of the jungle, he’s the guy that stands out,” said Singh. “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.’”