USAF Heathen Beard Accommodation

This is the paperwork I submitted to the Air Force requesting a religious accommodation to grow a beard in observance of our faith. I trust it will assist other Airmen in their endeavors to secure religious expression.

The Word document attached is the electronic Staff Summary Sheet (eSSS) routed beyond the squadron commander. In order to secure his concurrence, the eSSS would be attached to a squadron routing sheet and routed through the immediate chain of command to the squadron commander. Since there is no standardized squadron routing sheet, I have not included that.

On the eSSS itself, you can see four Tabs at the bottom:

Tab 1 is the request memorandum itself. I have included the template I created with digital signature blocks and drop down menus for the signatories to indicate their concur/non-concur. Embedded in the request memorandum itself are three attachments:

  • Att 1 is the document provided by NORSKK outlining the importance of the beard in our faith group. This was instrumental, particularly in the earlier stages.

  • Att 2 is the endorsement letter from the Wing Chaplain’s office. This wasn’t listed as a necessity in the Air Force Instruction (AFI), but definitely helped.

  • Att 3 is an excerpt from the Army regulations outlining the grooming standards for men who have been granted a religious accommodation to grow a beard. I had to rely on Army guidance because the AFI did not any guidance for beards allowed for religious expression. As you can see in the Approval Memo later, Headquarters Air Force (HAF) used the verbiage in the excerpt I provided, which tells me it was a good move to include the reference.

Tab 2 of the eSSS  is the Record of Emergency Data indicating my documented religious preference. I have removed the document itself for privacy reasons.

Tab 3 is the relevant excerpt from AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel. The pertinent paragraphs are highlighted. This may seem like an extra step, but I found a lot of personnel in the chain of command were unaware of the requirements and guidance set forth in the AFI.

Tab 4 is a generic comment matrix.

Obviously this is just a template which would need editing to change names, office symbols, etc. However, since I had no guidance whatsoever on how to write and officially submit this request, I want to give my brothers in arms a little leg up when it comes to submitting their own requests.

As far as the process itself and some general advice:

I started by requesting an interview with the chaplain assigned to my squadron. This was the longest part of the process, since it took six months just to convince the chaplain’s office that I was sincere and wasn’t going to be ignored. I provided the chaplain with the Importance of the Beard talking paper ahead of time so that he had a chance to read it prior to our interview. The interview itself was frustrated by a lack of knowledge on the chaplain’s part. The majority of time was explaining various concepts to him and translating terms into something he could understand and relate to. He was very concerned about not offending me by using incorrect terminology (for example to him, Heathen is an insult) and it took some time to get him to the point where he was comfortable just asking questions. I would advise going into the interview prepared to educate with an open attitude, understanding that what seems like common sense to us is foreign to most mainstreams. Knowledge of our history was a huge factor in showing him my commitment to our culture. The hardest part was trying to explain that we are not doctrinal or dogmatic, that we don’t have a list of “thou shall” and “shall not”, that our religious beliefs are embedded in our life rather than listed in a book. Comparing the sagas and eddas to parables written in the Bible, teaching values in the way of stories and examples, rather than the laws and commandments listed in the book of Numbers and Deuteronomy helped.

After the interview, the Chaplain’s office provided me with the endorsement letter, and I put all the paperwork together and routed it. There were some bureaucratic snags (adding people to the routing list, like Legal and Public Affairs), and some obvious bias (which was addressed to my immediate chain of command and to EO without a formal complaint needed), but after those snags were ironed out, things went pretty smoothly.

I did get a call two weeks ago from the Pentagon with two follow-on questions:

Am I part of an organized group? I explained that the only organized groups in my area that I am aware of are either Asatru or Odinist. I explained that since neither of those align with my “denominational” beliefs, I could not participate with either group. Some guys, however, may find membership in Forn Siðr helpful.

Do I suffer discrimination or am I prohibited from exercising my religion due to the lack of a beard? I explained that no one can prohibit me from exercising my beliefs, but that I do face a certain amount of ridicule and condescension from my peers based on the lack of a beard. Being the “beardless one” makes me stand out and draws less-than-desirable attention.