University of Iowa student Gursharan Virk is officially the first Air Force cadet allowed to wear traditional Sikh garb with his military uniform.
UI’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 255 helped Virk after he petitioned the military branch asking for permission. Now, Virk is able to have his turban, beard, and bracelet incorporated into his uniform.
“I am so proud to be the first person in the country and to make this possible for everyone who will come after me,” Virk told UI. “I had doubts about whether or not I was going to be able to do this. But I hope people don’t have those doubts anymore.”
For Sikhs, wearing a turban is a visible sign that they are there to help those in need. Other symbols of religious devotion are the kara—a bracelet Virk wears on his right wrist—and a beard.
“It didn’t feel like an obstacle because everyone around me was really supportive and helpful,” Virk said to KCCI. “So it was really a very smooth process for me.”
According to KAKE, Virk said the cadet process took about eight to nine months.
Iowa’s Air Force ROTC’s Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Youmans told We Are Iowa, “The default answer shouldn’t be ‘No, no, thank you,’ just because they’re a different religion than what maybe the standard Air Force person was in the past. But now it’s ‘how do we start with yes and stay [saying] yes and keep them in.”
Virk isn’t the first openly-practicing Sikh to enter the military. According to the Sikh Coalition, about 100 Sikhs are enlisted in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.
“Once I wear the turban, I’m representing a whole community,” Virk said to UI. “It motivates me to get up and work that much harder.”
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