Air Force ROTC cadet breaks barriers

The petition process lasted eight months and went in Virk’s favor, making him the first Air Force cadet granted permission to wear traditional Sikh garb.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 6:18 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWQC) - Gursharan Virk is proud to be in the Air Force ROTC and Sikh.

“Since I was a child, I wore a turban for as long as I can remember, so it is part of my identity. It’s a part of me, it’s something I’m proud of,” Virk said.

To show his full identity, he filed a petition that would allow him to wear a turban, have a beard, and wear a kara bracelet.

“It means a lot to me to be able to carry that and represent a whole community in the Air Force while also doing something that I wanted to do,” Virk said.

The petition process lasted eight months and went in Virk’s favor, making him the first Air Force cadet granted permission to wear traditional Sikh garb as a part of his military uniform.

“I’m just happy that I got to be the first one. And also, sometimes being the first of something can come with a lot of challenges, and a lot of hardships. People struggle a lot,” Virk said.

Virk said he would have considered dropping out of the ROTC if the petition had not gone in his favor.

“It makes me want to work harder because I’m representing a whole community, and it is both the Sikh community and the Air Force community,” Virk said.

Virk hopes that his story inspires others who find themselves deciding between their faith and work.

“It doesn’t state anywhere in the air force regulations that you can’t ask for a waiver. I guess I tried and it happened,” Virk said. “If you want your dreams very bad, and you really believe in your faith, I feel like just try for it. Ask the question, reach out.”

Virk said he is appreciative of his officers who helped him get through the petition process and understand why the uniform accommodations mean so much to him.