20-year-old Kiwi Indian man Suhailjeet Singh is the first baptised Sikh to join Royal New Zealand Air Force as an aircraft technician.

Amritdhari Sikhs or baptised Sikhs are individuals who have gone through the Amrit Sanskar initiation ceremony. Amritdhari Sikhs must follow the Sikh code of conduct that includes wearing the five Ks, which are the kesh, the kanga, the kara, the kachera and the kirpan. In addition to not cutting their hair, they must always keep it clean and some wear a turban.

Suhailjeet Singh did his architectural diploma from Unitec in Auckland and is currently undergoing two more courses to become a complete mechanic. Once qualified with the two courses, Suhailjeet will be able to perform full mechanical service on RNZAF aircraft independently before take-off and after landing.

Suhailjeet intends to complete a further technic course to become a senior aircraft mechanic that will make him eligible to check and repair major faults in aircraft.

“My role in the RNZAF is as an Aircraft Technician, which is a mechanical role and includes working on airframes, engines, structure, modifications and troubleshooting of aircraft,” Suhailjeet Singh said.

Suhailjeet is being hailed as a role model for youngsters, especially Sikhs in the Kiwi Indian community in New Zealand who worked hard to attain this prestigious position of a mechanic with NZ Air Force at such a young age. 

Suhailjeet Singh came to New Zealand at the age of three with his parents from New Delhi, India. He studied at Mt Eden School, Conifer Grove School in Takanini and Rosehill College in Papakura. He also studied Punjabi from Sikh Heritage School at Takanini, and learnt kirtan, playing table and performing gatka (Sikh martial arts).

Growing up, he considered his cousin Manmohan Singh, a mechanical engineer as his role model and after completing his diploma from Unitec,

He applied in the NZ Air Force after completing his diploma being pursued and encouraged by his cousin and role model, Manmohan Singh, a mechanical engineer working with a private firm in NZ.

According to Suhailjeet, recruitment into the Air Force is difficult as it requires months of preparation, studying long hours, physical training, dedication to his new aspiration.

“There are various levels, and it took me nearly a year and a half, from the time I applied to the time I started my recruit training. It requires a lot of resilience and discipline to get through the entire process. There are various levels of physical fitness tests along with basic literacy and numeracy tests and an interview along with medical and security checks,” Suhailjeet added.

Speaking about his dress code being a baptised Sikh, Suhailjeet added that there is a provision in the RNZAF dress code to accommodate people from different religious backgrounds.

“We get Patka and material for turban issued as part of the uniform, and as I cannot wear the standard issued headdress, all I have to do is attach an RNZAF hat badge when everyone else is required to don their hats.

“We can keep all the 5 Ks, and in fact I was asked by one of my seniors if I was ok in the barracks during the recruit course, to follow any religious practice, i.e. doing Nitnem,” Suhailjeet added.

Suhailjeet added that he came across two Air Force personnel who hold the rank of Squadron Leader from a Sikh background with whom he met one and had communication on email with the other.

Suhailjeet encourages members of the Kiwi Indian community, both boys and girls to look for such opportunities with RNZAF and join the defence force as it had great career opportunities.

“Although, being the only Indian, and the only Sikh male in this group (as Aircraft Technician), I did not feel alone nor apart. We are a mixture of New Zealanders from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds and come from many different families but we now also belong to another bigger family, the RNZAF,” Suhailjeet added.

Some photo, quotes and content provided by Harjinder Singh Basiala of NZ Punjabi Herald