For nearly a year, the Air Force weighed a staff sergeant’s request to grow a beard as part of his religious beliefs before granting him a waiver, a decision that balanced personal liberty against military readiness, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Staff Sgt. Garrett Sopchak, a 28-year-old aerospace ground equipment craftsman from the 388th Maintenance Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, embraces Norse Heathenism, a belief system whose pantheon includes the gods Odin and Thor. He received his waiver July 8. . .
The Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all, said Lynn Kirby, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, in an Aug. 5 email.
Sopchak is the second Norse Heathen known to have obtained an Air Force waiver to grow a beard. Staff Sgt. William Bailey received a waiver to grow a beard March 1, according to an Air Force memo posted in July to the amn/nco/snco Facebook page.
The Air Force, citing privacy concerns, declined to identify how many airmen have obtained waivers based on religious exemptions but said the publicity surrounding approvals in recent years has not caused an increase in waiver requests. (Read more from “Military Approving Beards for Pagan Worshipers” HERE)