Sikh-American soldiers sidelined for turbans and beards Posted by Meeta Kaur/ NJ Voices Guest Blogger June 26, 2009 4:10PM Categories: Policy Watch AP Photo/Mel Evans Dr. Kamal S. Kalsi stands near Saint Joseph's hospital in Paterson, where he works. Kalsi, a Sikh, is also a captain in the U.S. Army and is reporting for duty in July. He had been under the impression that his beard and turban are allowed, but recently found out that is not the case. The Army has sent a letter saying they're going to review the policy. General Frank Walter Messervy, a British Indian Army officer who served in World War I and II, described an observation he had of a particular kind of solider serving the British army: "In the last two World Wars 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the World, enduring shell fire with no other protection but the turban..." The sheer number of Sikhs soldiers cited serving in the British army is a testament to how much faith the British army has in Sikhs soldiers. It is also a testament to the British Army's respect for turbaned Sikhs serving with their religious articles of faith intact. The US Army has also recruited Sikh soldiers in the past, but has recently banned Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, a New Jersey resident, and Second Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a New York City resident, from reporting for active duty on July 1st with their articles of faith intact. Part of the military's objection to turbans and beards centers on esprit de corps, the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group. The ban on a Sikh American soldier's articles of faith suggests that the US Army regards the standard uniform of a crew cut and shaved face as the binding factor amongst US soldiers. The explicit danger military soldiers can face indicates that most soldiers judge other soldiers by their character and their ability to perform in that life-defining moment, not their religious identity and appearance. And if for a brief second we entertain the notion that soldiers are judged by their religious identity, wouldn't most soldiers want other soldiers of committed faith by their side? During World War I, American women and African Americans struggled to fully participate in the US Military for fifty years because gender and race were perceived as a disruption to military unit cohesion. In 1948, President Harry Truman punctuated this struggle with executive orders that granted full US Military participation to both American women and African Americans on the basis of equality. Today, both parties occupy US military leadership roles and participate in combat. This again reinforces that there is something deeper than appearance in the way of race or gender that binds US military soldiers together to create a common spirit. When it comes down to life-defining moments, most converge on the shared experience we call life. As a nation, we have outgrown these outdated inequalities, so lets move forward and not waste time re-living archaic notions that suggest we ban Sikh Americans from the US military only to let them participate fifty years from now. Lets get on with the business at hand. A Sikh American's turban is an article of faith that binds a Sikh to an ethical code of conduct. Part of that conduct includes protecting and serving fellow human beings. Banning a Sikh soldier's articles of faith will destroy the very spirit that will promote and contribute to the common enthusiasm, devotion and strong honor for the group within a military unit. A Sikh soldier's turban is a guarantee of that very spirit. Let Sikh Americans serve in the military with their articles of faith.