A member of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has received the first-ever religious-related waiver, allowing him to wear a turban and keep a beard.

According to an Air Force press release, a follower of the Sikh religion, Senior Airman Dominic Varriale received his waiver about a month ago. Varriale works as a geospatial intelligence analyst with the 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron.

A waiver like the one Varriale received, often can take up to three years to pass through the complete approval process. Due to the support and assistance of his command and the Sikh Americans Veterans Alliance (SAVA), Varriale was able to receive his waiver only three months after he submitted his request.

When speaking with Military.com, Varriale said “The SAVA sent me Air Force Instruction-approved religious articles of faith such as my operational camouflage pattern-colored turban. They also made it possible for me to speak to a Gurdwara (where Sikhs go to practice their faith), back in my hometown to get a proper letter of sincerity from a Sikh Temple.”

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dominic Varriale, a geospatial intelligence analyst with the 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron, poses for a portrait at Hurlburt Field, Florida, July 17, 2020. Varriale is the first member of Air Force Special Operations Command to get a religious waiver, allowing him to wear a turban for his Sikh faith while in uniform. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joseph P. Leveille)

The commanding officer of the 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron, Lt. Col. Brian Lightsey, was very happy to hear about Varriale’s waiver approval.

Lightsey said that Varriale’s “reaction was immediate: It was part relief, part a sense of pride, but most importantly, it was evident to everyone in the room that it meant a great deal to him. Senior Airman Varriale was always a capable analyst beforehand, but I sincerely believe the practicing of his faith has provided extra motivation to hone his craft as a mission analyst and to improve as an airman.”

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Varriale extended his thanks and gratitude to his command: “My command has been extremely supportive every step of the way. For a long time, the military had a more ‘mind your business’ attitude. With recent changes, there is a much larger interest in my religion and people are not afraid to ask and learn more.”

Back in February, the Air Force updated its uniform policies to better accommodate those with religious affiliations. The Air Force created a formal process for personnel to submit religious waivers, in order to gain permission to wear hijabs or turbans, grow facial hair, and wear other religious devices.

Although this is the first member of AFSOC to be granted permission to wear a turban and keep a beard, this is by no means a new policy for the greater military. In 2014, the Pentagon laid out a process for how military members could apply for waivers to wear religious-affiliated items while in uniform. The Army has since then spearheaded this process. In 2017, the Army implemented procedures allowing Sikhs and Muslims to apply for and gain permission to wear religious headgear and have a beard at the Brigade level.

Of course, each waiver is judged on a case-by-case basis. But once an individual’s waiver request is accepted, their waiver is permanent for the rest of their time in service.