WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — When Connor Crawn joined the Air Force, he had no idea what impact he’d have.

In 2020, Connor Crawn graduated from Indian River High School. Although an Antwerp native, he is a member of the Saint Regis Mohawk (Haudenosaunee) Tribe.

He grew up to embrace his Native American heritage and culture. This was a big reason why he decided to join the military after high school.

“With the military being important in my culture as you know, a warrior society, I felt as though it would be a good way to start my early life and young adult life in the military,” Crawn expressed.

He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in January 2021.

With commitment came sacrifice. After a denied religious hair accommodations request, he was required to cut off his traditional Mohawk braids.

“To the Haudenosaunee people, and a lot of other native people, our hair is everything,” Crawn expressed. “It represents our power, our strength, our connection to the creator, to the Earth. I had grown my hair for years and years. I really felt like a part of me died.”

Crawn’s father also cut his braids to stand in solidarity with his son’s display of service.

However, little did the young airman know he was about to make history. Less than three years later at his first duty station at the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, he became the first Native American airman to be granted religious hair accommodation.

The papers came in November of 2022 after Crawn worked with his unit’s chaplain for over a year.

“Through the approval of my accommodation, it’s opened a lot of eyes,” he explained. “Obviously I get questioned about my hair because I am under female hair standards now in the United States Air Force.”

As Crawn currently serves as a convoy team leader with the 341st Security Forces Group, he said his accommodation has allowed him to help other Native American servicemembers.

“I am able to educate and teach people,” he stated. “People when they think of the military, they think of fade skin trims and everything like that. This goes to show that I can still look professional with long hair, and represent myself and my culture.”

This symbol of acceptance has also allowed Crawn to honor his Haudenosaunee culture while he serves his country across the globe.

“It’s phenomenal,” he expressed. “I’m very prideful to be Mohawk. I do everything I can to try and bring awareness to that. I interact with native tribes out in Montana. Really just got and show that I’m Mohawk and I can represent myself as a Mohawk in the military.”