BURLINGTON COUNTY, N.J. (CBS) — A military man stationed in Burlington County is making U.S. history. The Air Force has granted him a religious accommodation so he would not have to lose his identity and practice his religion while in uniform.
The cold on Thursday was a reminder to Airman 1st Class Jaspreet Singh. He’s a long way from his home in Southern California, but thanks to a change in uniform, he’s getting back in touch with his roots.
To keep the Air Force soaring high, there’s a host of hard-working maintenance men and women at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Singh is part of the fire and refueler truck maintenance staff.
“I’m serving the country. I’m doing what I like doing now,” Singh said.
With pride in his country and his #Sikh religion airman Jaspreet Singh at @jointbasemdl becomes one of the 1st in @usairforce to receive a religious accommodation to wear a turban pic.twitter.com/eAiohh2kTC
— Cleve Bryan CBS3 (@CleveBryan) December 19, 2019
Until recently, Singh could not wear a turban at work or grow his hair and beard as is Sikh tradition. It is against military regulation.
“It symbolizes humility,” Singh said of his turban.
When Singh enlisted two years ago, he made the extremely difficult choice to leave behind the practices he grew up with.
“The stress of boot camp, it does get to you. But especially with what was going on in my head because I had just changed 17 years of my life, it was definitely affecting me so from there, I had an opportunity to speak to a chaplain,” Singh said.
The chaplain advised Singh he had the right to seek a religious accommodation to grow his hair and wear a turban.
“I personally believe that America’s diversity has always been a strength,” Chaplain Dan Ruiz said.
Chaplains like Ruiz help facilitate the military’s long-standing religious accommodations policy, whether it’s a belief like kosher food or a turban.
“We want to make sure that it’s authentic, that it’s real,” Ruiz said. “And we want to make sure that they are afforded the same constitutional liberties that everybody else is.”
With his accommodation approved, Singh becomes just the third member of the Air Force allowed to wear a turban.
“When we wear the uniform, when we’re giving the uniform, it signifies our pride in our country,” Singh said. “I feel like I had that pride in our country, but now, I also have pride in my religion because I can wear my turban, which is OCP pattern and it matches my uniform. I have pride wearing my uniform for my country and a turban for my religion as well.”