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Air Force graduates first fully religiously accommodated Sikh Airman from Security Forces Apprentice Course

Airman 1st Class Sunjit Rathour earns his Security Forces beret as the first Sikh Airman to secure full religious accommodation, starting at Basic Military Training through Security Forces Apprentice Course, to wear a turban and remain unshaven in uniform. He graduated Security Forces technical training at Joint Base San Antonio, Lackland September 26, 2019.

Airman 1st Class Sunjit Rathour earns his Security Forces beret as the first Sikh Airman to secure full religious accommodation, starting at Basic Military Training through Security Forces Apprentice Course, to wear a turban and remain unshaven in uniform. He graduated Security Forces technical training at Joint Base San Antonio, Lackland September 26, 2019.

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --

The first Sikh Airmen granted full religious accommodations starting from basic military training through technical training graduated from the 343rd Training Squadron’s Security Forces apprentice course here Sept. 26, 2019.

Airman Sunjit Rathour graduated from BMT June 13, 2019, as the first trainee to complete the 8-and-half week training with permission to wear a turban with uncut beard, uncut hair, necklace and bracelet in observation of his Sikh faith. This accommodation remained through his participation in the Security Forces apprentice course and will continue during his time as an active duty Airman.

“This country was founded on the principle of religious freedom for all,” said Chief Master Sgt. Donald Gallagher, 343th TRS chief enlisted manager. “The diversity of our Air Force and respect for differences is what makes us the greatest Air Force in history. Sunjit is a model Airman, setting an example for all Defenders. He is humble, resilient, and tenacious--determined to earn his badge and beret--doing it with an amazing attitude. He is a great addition to the “Defender Nation.”

Rathour submitted an official request for pre-accession religious accommodation to Air Education and Training Command’s Manpower, Personnel and Services office and was granted permission via official memorandum Dec. 21, 2018.

“I’m thrilled that the Air Force gave me the opportunity to complete both basic and technical training with a religious accommodation,” Rathour said.  “My fellow airmen and superiors have been nothing but supportive, and I look forward to continuing my service for years to come.”

The Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.  The Air Force is dedicated to maintaining an environment in which people can realize their highest potential regardless of personal religious or other beliefs.

“Sikhs have served in militaries all over the world for hundreds of years,” said Kamal Kalsi, Ph.D., president of the Sikh American Veteran Alliance. “We congratulate the Air Force for reinforcing their commitment to diversity and religious freedom.” 

Kalsi is also a Lt. Col. in the United States Army Reserve.

Chaplains often act as counselors, advisors and facilitators and are a resource available to all Airman. Like all trainees, Rathour had access to chaplains during BMT and technical training. As part of his religious accommodation, the chaplain’s office arranged for Rathour to attend services at a local Sikh temple during technical school.

A group of local Sikhs from the Sikh Dharamsal of San Antonio also attended the graduation to show support for Rathour and celebrate this historic moment for Sikh’s who wish to serve in the military.  

The Rathour family is laced with service in both the United States military and law enforcement. Members from his immediate family have served in the Army and Navy, and have retired from or currently serve as members of the New York City Police Department.

“From day one it was obvious Airman Rathour is passionate about the security forces career field,” said Master Sgt. Justin Consley, 343rd TRS apprentice course instructor. “He had heart and determination throughout all 65 days of training and has proved himself as a valuable asset to our Air Force and worthy addition to the Defender family.”

Security Forces is the largest enlisted career field in the Air Force, with approximately 38,000 Security Forces Airmen defending 120 bases around the globe.  2019 has been declared the Year of the Defender.

"We must always take integrated and layered base defense to a new level by increasing investment in our defenders with new equipment, new training, new tactics, techniques, and procedures, and renewed focus at every echelon of command,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff.  “This is the year of the defender, because we don’t project power without the network of bases and infrastructure needed to execute multi-domain operations."

Next, Airmen Rathour will participate in the Recruiter’s Assistance Program. He then reports to his first assignment at the 374th Security Forces Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan.

For more information on RAP, visit, https://www.recruiting.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/931830/recruiter-assistance-program-rap/.

Airmen can seek guidance or clarification on any religious freedom or accommodation questions through their chain of command, Wing Chaplain or their Equal Opportunity Office.