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Sikh airman becomes first allowed to wear beard and turban in Air Force

The U.S. Air Force has granted a first-of-its-kind religious accommodation to a Sikh airman. Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa will be allowed to keep his traditional beard and long hair and wear a turban during active duty — allowing him to practice his faith.

"I'm overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation," Bajwa said in the Air Force's press release, obtained by the Air Force Times. "Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity."

Bajwa, a crew chief at McChord Air Force Base near Seattle, is the first active duty airman allowed to practice Sikh religious grooming and dress traditions during his service.

The Air Force has granted a religious accommodation to Airman Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, allowing him to wear a beard and turban during active duty. He is the first to do so. ACLU

The ACLU called the religious accommodation a "milestone" that was made possible by their lawsuit, filed in 2015. "Even though Sikhs have long served in the armed forces of some of our closest allies — including Canada, Great Britain, and India — opportunities in the United States military today have been uneven at best," the ACLU said in a statement on its website.

The decision dispels the myth that grooming and uniform accommodations could cause harm or impede the military's ability to achieve its mission, the ACLU said.

The Air Force made changes to its hair and dress code last year, adding locs, a type of hairstyle worn by many black women, to a list of other authorized female hairstyles, according to the Air Force Times. The revised regulations also allowed male airmen to wear earrings, but only while off-duty and in civilian attire.

Bajwa's beard and turban, however, are not accessories, but rather religious practices. In 2018, the ACLU fought a similar case, in which their female client became the first Air Force officer authorized to wear a hijab during her training and service.

The ACLU says it is now time for other branches of the military to follow suit. "No American should have to choose between following her faith and serving her country, whether as a soldier or airman, or as a sailor, Marine, or Coast Guardsman," the ACLU says. "The members of our armed forces put their bodies on the line to defend the ideals of liberty and equality upon which this country was founded — now it's up to the government to live up to those same ideals."

CBS News has reached out to the Air Force for comment and is awaiting response.

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