By Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published July 29, 2021
Airman 1st Class Braxton Comer, a student services technician with the Community College of the Air Force and practicing Norse Pagan, poses for a photo in the CCAF building on Maxwell-Gunter Annex, Alabama, July 27, 2021. Comer requested a religious accommodation waiver for the wear of a beard to express his religious beliefs and received approval in June 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske)
The Air Force is taking a hard look at updating policies to allow Airmen to serve without sacrificing their individuality, and to make service accessible to everyone, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), age or religion.
The 42nd Air Base Wing’s Freedom to Serve Initiative champions are dedicated to forming plans of action to create equal opportunities for all Airmen across the installation.
One such Airmen is Airman 1st Class Braxton Comer, a student services technician with the Community College of the Air Force.
“I’d rather do what I think is right than live a lie,” said Comer, a practicing Norse Pagan since the age of 20.
For three years prior to enlisting in the Air Force, Comer wore a beard to express his religious beliefs. Comer says that without a beard, he felt disconnected from his faith.
His recruiter told him that to enlist, Comer would have to either shave his beard, or obtain a religious accommodation for the wear of a beard, a process that he was told could take nearly a year. Rather than delay his enlistment, Comer decided to shave his beard and apply for the accommodation at a later date.
In March 2021, after Comer arrived at Maxwell Air Force Base, he started talking to his first sergeant about applying for a religious accommodation to obtain a beard waiver. Comer’s first sergeant told him about the Freedom to Serve Initiative champions and suggested he attend a meeting to learn more about their purpose.
“Everyone has a narrative,” said Dominque Torres, 42nd ABW community support coordinator, and a Freedom to Serve champion. “The Freedom to Serve Initiative is charged with cultivating conditions for Airmen rising to their best selves. One way we do that is by listening to people’s stories, like Airman Comer.”
Airman Comer met with the Freedom to Serve team, including Torres and Jacqueline McCollum, the wing’s Equal Opportunity Office director. The team felt raising awareness could spotlight how Comer’s leadership helped him remove barriers and rise to his best.
“My leadership helped me without a doubt,” said Comer. “From my supervisor who advised me, and helped me format the necessary paperwork, to my [first sergeant], who constantly reached out to get updates for me, and even my commander, who personally spoke to the installation commander suggesting approval of my waiver.”