A Sikh American Soldier’s Battle To Wear The Turban!


WASHINGTON – “If the militaries in Canada, England, India and progressive nations allow Sikhs to serve in turbans and beards, then why can’t the U.S. ?”

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 U.S. 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who is now waging a new campaign to get the rules that have prevented hundreds of Sikhs from joining the military repealed once for all.