Washington Air National Guard recruit a first for ANG
By Master Sgt. Timothy Chacon, 194th Wing
/ Published September 30, 2019
CAMP MURRAY, Wash. -- After months of hard work by many people, the Washington Air National Guard's newest recruit will no longer have to choose between serving his state and country and practicing his religion.
Gurchetan Singh is Sikh and elements of his religion – especially in how he follows the principles of the five Ks (Kesh, Kanga, Kara, Kachera, Kirpan) – cause a conflict with the standards of dress and appearance while in uniform. A waiver for religious accommodation signed by Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, director Air National Guard, will allow Singh to maintain his commitment to Sikh Rehni (Sikh way of life) and begin his newly sworn commitment to the ANG.
"This lets people know that something that might have stood in their way before, that ethically or morally they didn't feel comfortable giving up, is no longer a choice they have to make," said Brig. Gen. Jeremy Horn, Washington Air National Guard commander. "We have room for progress, and this is a really good step towards removing barriers."
Singh is not the first Sikh to serve in the U.S. military or even the Washington Air National Guard. But he is the first in the Air National Guard to have this religious accommodation as a new enlistee that allows him to serve in a way that aligns with his faith.
"We have an incredible force, but we can keep striving towards a force that more adequately represents the community outside the gate," said Horn. "I think it fits in with who we are as Washingtonians. We have an incredibly diverse state here, so why would we put barriers up to segments of our population? Why would we exclude portions of our population that add that different viewpoint to what we do? So if there is a waiver process, we would be breaking faith with our citizens by not exploring those waivers as they come in. I really hope this is the first of many."
The process from the time Singh contacted a recruiter to his swearing-in took more than 15 months, compared to one to three months for the average ANG recruit.
Although Sikhs who want to serve now face the extra step of a waiver, there is a process in place in the Department of Defense that should become simpler. It just takes the support of people who are willing to go through it because they see the benefits.
"It is worth it. Someone has to take the first step," Singh said. "In a way, I'm lucky that I had to do that. Someone had to do it. If it wasn't me, it had to be someone. It takes effort to pave that path for future generations."
Singh talked about having friends in the Sikh community who wanted to serve but were hesitant because of the process.
"I had faith and I believed this would happen," said Singh.
Singh will go to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, then on to technical training before returning to Camp Murray to join the 262nd Cyber Operations Squadron.
Singh now will have the opportunity to shape his career just as every other Airman does. He will face struggles and challenges that are shared by other Airmen and some that are unique to him.
"We are extremely proud he wants to serve in our organization. We are grateful for each of our young citizens, someone else's son or daughter, that is willing to sign on the line and become part of our organization," said Horn. "The fact that he is willing to fight a little more of an uphill battle, more so than the average candidate, shows a strong desire on his part. I'm confident he is going to be an