New York: Twenty six year old Simran Preet Singh Lamba became the first enlisted
Sikh soldier in the US army in more two decades to complete basic
training without shedding his turban and other articles of faith.
Recruited by the Army in 2009 through the Military Accessions Vital to
the National Interest (MAVNI) programme for his language skills in
Punjabi and Hindi, Lamba completed basic training with his turban and
unshorn hair at Fort Jackson outside Columbia and became a US citizen.
"I am thrilled to serve with my fellow soldiers and serve the United
States of America," Lamba said.
"I humbly believe I was able to excel in all aspects of my training.
Most importantly, I was overwhelmed by the support and camaraderie I
felt with my fellow soldiers and base leadership. I thank them all and
look forward to my service," he added.
Present US Army policy still excludes Sikhs who maintain their turban
and beard. Sikhs in the US military may maintain their
religiously-mandated turban and unshorn hair only if they receive an
individual exemption to do so.
Lamba was initially told that his Sikh articles of faith would likely be
But, in March 2010, his formal request for a religious accommodation was
denied. Lamba appealed the decision, and his appeal was accepted in
Contrary to the concerns of some, Lamba was able to meet all the
requirements of a soldier during basic training.
He wore a helmet over a small turban during field exercises. During gas
mask exercises, he successfully created a seal. He also enjoyed deep
bonds with fellow soldiers and his superiors.
Present Army policy still excludes Sikhs who maintain their turban and
beard. Sikhs in the US military may maintain their religiously-mandated
turban and unshorn hair only if they receive an individual exemption to
In 1981, the Army banned "conspicuous" religious articles of faith,
including turbans and unshorn hair, for its service members.The ban was
enacted despite a long history of Sikhs serving in the US military with
their religious identity intact.
Nevertheless, the past year has seen welcome progress in the campaign to
restore Sikh service in the US military.
In March, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, became the first Sikh
commissioned officer to complete basic training in more than two
In September, Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a physician, became the
second Sikh commissioned officer to complete basic training.
The addition of Lamba to the group of Sikh military graduates is a
critical step forward in proving that Sikhs can successfully serve in
the US military.
"To be an American is to be able to serve his or her country in the
defence of the justice and equality we all enjoy as citizens. We
appreciate the US Army's willingness to consider the overwhelmingly
positive experiences of Captains Rattan and Kalsi - as well as the
success of dozens of Sikhs who have served in the US. Armed Forces over
the past century - in giving Mr Lamba the opportunity to serve the
United States," said Amandeep Singh Sidhu lead counsel for McDermott
Will & Emery LLP.
"We hope that his success in enlisted basic training continues to dispel
misconceptions about the ability of a Sikh solider to conform to the
Army's standards for neat and conservative uniformity, safety, military
readiness, and unit cohesion," he said.
"We are grateful to the US Army and its forward thinking here. We are
hopeful that the success Mr Lamba enjoyed during basic training will
impress upon the US military the necessity of ending its general policy
of Sikh exclusion," Amardeep Singh, Program Director Sikh Coalition
"Over the past year Sikh service in the US Army has been successfully
tried and tested. We know it works. All Sikhs should now be welcome in
the military. We look forward to working with military leadership to
make that happen. Our military and the United States of America will be
stronger for it."
Sikh soldiers served in the US Army as far back as World War I.
Thousands of Sikh soldiers helped liberate France in WWII. Today, Sikhs
serve in the militaries of England, Canada, India and Austria, among
others, often alongside American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Story first published:
November 11, 2010 09:26 IST