The new guidelines (pdf) outline a clear approval process for Sikhs and Muslims who want a religious exception to the normal dress code or airmen who want to have unshorn beards or hair. Airmen who submit such a request can expect it to be approved provided their appearance is “neat and conservative.”
Accommodations must be reviewed within 30 days for domestic cases and 60 days for other cases. There are sample memos approving the requests to help speed up the process. A submission of a new request isn’t required unless the airman has a break in service longer than a year or is requesting a modification.
Certain restrictions are placed upon airmen, such as wearing a head covering that closely resembles the assigned uniform. There are also specific instructions for the fit.
“The hijab must be closely fitted to the contours of the head and neck and may not cover the eyebrows, eyes, cheeks, nose, mouth, or chin. The bottom edges of the hijab will be tucked under the Airman’s uniform top and all required headgear will still be worn. Hair underneath the hijab must be worn in a hairstyle authorized for the Airmen,” the guidelines state.
“The bulk of the Airman’s hair and hijab may not impair the ability to wear protective equipment; impede the ability to operate an assigned weapon, military equipment, or machinery; or interfere with the ability to perform the assigned military duties.”
Four pictures accompany the guidelines for the hijab and others for having a beard or donning a turban.
A handful of Sikhs and Muslims had received accommodations to wear hijabs or turbans before, but the process to receive an exception had been lengthy.
The Sikh Coalition praised the change in policy, saying the updates guidelines establish “clear grooming and uniform standards for enlisted and officer airmen who are granted accommodations based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
“No Sikh American should have to choose between their religious beliefs and their career ambitions,” said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition staff attorney, in a statement. “Sikhs have served honorably and capably in the U.S. Armed Forces and other militaries around the world, and while we are eager for a blanket proclamation that all observant Sikh Americans can serve in every branch of the military without seeking accommodations, this policy clarification is a great step forward towards ensuring equality of opportunity and religious freedom in the Air Force.”