360° Coverage : A Sikh American soldier's battle for the turban (Feature)

A Sikh American soldier's battle for the turban (Feature)

Washington, July 21 (IANS) "If the militaries in Canada, England, India and progressive nations allow Sikhs to serve in turbans and beards, then why can't the US?"

Jul 21 2013, 3:44am CDT | by IANS

A Sikh American soldier's battle for the turban (Feature)
Photo Credit: GUILLERMO LEGARIA, Getty Images

Washington, July 21 — "If the militaries in Canada, England, India and progressive nations allow Sikhs to serve in turbans and beards, then why can't the US?"

That was the question that Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, the first Sikh soldier in a generation allowed to keep the articles of his faith, posed to his commanders back in 2009 when he was told that he cannot wear his turban and beard while in service.

Eight years earlier when he joined the US army he had spoken with the recruiters and "they said 'it's not an issue, not a big deal' because they had seen other sardars in service," Kalsi told IANS on phone from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Before the policy change in 1981 there were many Sikhs who served in all the branches of the military all the way from early 1900 and many serving Sikh soldiers were grandfathered in, he said naming two retired officers, Col G. B. Singh and Col Sekhon.

But Kalsi's commanders agreed to put in a request for a waiver up the chain of command. "They afforded me a very amicable process, though a very lengthy one with a large amount of paperwork."

He finally won an accommodation from the Pentagon in 2010, went on active duty at Fort Bragg and was deployed twice in Afghanistan, where he went on to win a Bronze star for service and a NATO commendation.

Since then, two more soldiers, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist and Specialist Simran Preet Singh Lamba, an army medic, have received waivers from the Army.

The Army raised three concerns, whether he could wear a gas mask and a helmet and whether it would affect his "unit cohesion" or esprit de corps. Kalsi said he met all their concerns by wearing a helmet over his long hair wrapped by a 'patka' or sport bandana.

"Never have I faced any problem or issues with my fellow soldiers," said Kalsi, 36, a father of two children, who is currently the medical director of emergency medical services at Fort Bragg.

"We have sort of proven the concept that we not only make good soldiers, but great soldiers," added Kalsi, who is now waging a new campaign to get the rules that have prevented hundreds of Sikhs from joining the military repealed once for all.

As part of the campaign, the Sikh Coalition, a community advocacy group, is engaging members of the US Congress and has launched an online petition to the White House.

"Now the time has come for a broader policy to be adopted," said Kalsi, who would in September join the Army reserves for the next couple of years.

"It's not acceptable that we look at it on an individual basis because the amount of effort that's required becomes a barrier to service, becomes an obstacle."

"Basically we are being kept from being fully integrated with our communities here," Kalsi said.

Incidents like the Aug 5, 2012 Oak Creek tragedy when a white supremacist shot to death six Sikh worshippers in a Wisconsin gurdwara could have been prevented if there were more Sikhs serving in the military, police or fire services, he said.

"If a Sikh rescues your daughter, you're not going to feel any animosity towards that person. You'll say, "Wow that guy is a hero and is really part of my community.'"

"That's the level of integration I am looking for," said Kalsi, whose parents came from India in 1978 when he was just two and spoke "Hindi, Punjabi and a little bit of English too."

"The time has come for us to serve in our military, go into politics, and do all the wonderful things that it means to as an American," said Kalsi who calls New Jersey, where he grew up, home.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

IANS

Source: IANS

 
 
 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

School headmaster shot dead in Pakistan
Islamabad, Dec 4 (IANS) Unidentified gunmen Thursday killed the headmaster of a private school in Pakistan's Balochistan province.
 
 
Four more bodies recovered from sunken South Korean ship
Seoul, Dec 4 (IANS) Four more bodies were recovered Thursday from a sunken South Korean fishing ship in the Bering Sea, the foreign ministry here said.
 
 
Lesbian couple asked to desist in London restaurant
London, Dec 4 (IANS) A lesbian couple in a London restaurant was asked to desist by a staff member, who asked them to "stop what you are doing".
 
 
Oxford Dictionaries to add 1,000 new words
London, Dec 4 (IANS) 'Mamil' (middle-aged man in Lycra), 'silvertail' (a person who is socially prominent or who displays social aspirations) and 'crony capitalism' are among the 1,000 new words to be added to OxfordDictionaries.com, the free online dictionary, in its largest quarterly update so far.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Australian researcher discovers first artwork by early human
Sydney, Dec 4 (IANS) An Australian researcher has discovered what is believed to be the first artwork created by a human. The simple zigzag pattern found on a fossilized shell from the Indonesian island of Java has...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Insects compete with rats to clear garbage
New York, Dec 4 (IANS) Insects play a very important role in cleaning up cities and they compete with other pests like rats and pigeons in their endeavour, a study has said. Scientists sampled arthropods - such as...
Read more on Business Balla
 
School headmaster shot dead in Pakistan
Islamabad, Dec 4 (IANS) Unidentified gunmen Thursday killed the headmaster of a private school in Pakistan's Balochistan province. Police officials said the armed men opened fire at the vehicle of Zahid Ali,...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Four more bodies recovered from sunken South Korean ship
Seoul, Dec 4 (IANS) Four more bodies were recovered Thursday from a sunken South Korean fishing ship in the Bering Sea, the foreign ministry here said. This increased the toll to 16, including six South Koreans and 10...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Lesbian couple asked to desist in London restaurant
London, Dec 4 (IANS) A lesbian couple in a London restaurant was asked to desist by a staff member, who asked them to "stop what you are doing". Lydia Cawson, 29, said that she and her girlfriend were asked by a staff...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Oxford Dictionaries to add 1,000 new words
London, Dec 4 (IANS) 'Mamil' (middle-aged man in Lycra), 'silvertail' (a person who is socially prominent or who displays social aspirations) and 'crony capitalism' are among the 1,000 new words to be added to...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Oceans play key role in global 'warming hiatus'
London, Dec 4 (IANS) Increased heat uptake across three oceans - North Atlantic, the Southern Ocean and Equatorial Pacific Ocean - is the likely cause of the 'warming hiatus' -- the current decade-long slowdown in...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Novel imaging to identify if TB drugs are working
Washington, Dec 4 (IANS) Tuberculosis patients who are not cured of the infection can develop multi-drug resistant TB and have to take as many as six drugs for two years. Now, researchers at University of Pittsburgh...
Read more on Business Balla
 
PM makes first appointment to High Court of Australia
Canberra, Dec 4 (IANS) Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government Thursday appointed former Victorian Supreme Court judge Geoffrey Nettle as the next Justice of the High Court of Australia. Attorney General George...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
18 suspected militants killed in Pakistan airstrikes
Islamabad, Dec 4 (IANS) At least 18 suspected militants were killed Thursday in airstrikes conducted by Pakistan Air Force fighter jets in North Waziristan. According to officials, the airstrikes were conducted in...
Read more on Politics Balla