In a first for the British military, a Sikh and a Muslim “padres” have become part of the Royal Air Force Chaplain’s Branch, UK’s ministry of defence announced on Friday.

Flight Lieutenant Mandeep Kaur, who grew up in Punjab, becomes the first Sikh chaplain and Kenya-born Flight Lieutenant Ali Omar becomes the first Muslim chaplain.

Kaur was selected as a chaplain while studying in the UK for her doctorate in engineering and has been working towards this role since 2005, the ministry of defence (MoD) said.

The two padres, as they are officially referred to, graduated at Royal Air Force (RAF) College Cranwell, RAF’s training and education academy, on Thursday, after completing reservist officer training.

“Padres provide spiritual and welfare support to all soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and their families. They deploy on operations and aboard ships when they go on long deployments,” the MoD said

“Padres can also go out on patrols and live on the front line, on hand for when personnel need them,” it notes.

The appointments form part of the ministry’s new strategy to increase diversity and inclusion across the armed forces.

The strategy titled ‘A Force for Inclusion’ is aimed at ensuring that diversity and inclusion are a major part of all of the department’s work, including workforce policies, culture and behaviour.

“It has been an absolute privilege to welcome our first Sikh and Muslim commissioned chaplains into the Royal Air Force and I look forward immensely to working with them into the future,” said John Ellis, RAF chaplain-in-chief, the venerable (Air-Vice Marshal).

“My role in the RAF as a flagbearer of the Muslim chaplaincy will see me work with the RAF chaplaincy branch to negotiate and establish the place of World Faith Chaplaincy within the RAF,” said Omar, who studied for his master’s degree in translation studies at Portsmouth University before completing a post-graduate course and joining RAF ranks.

“An overdue and exciting venture that will see me work side by side as a commissioned Muslim chaplain along colleagues from different faiths,” he said.