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USA Major Step Forward To Full Acceptance Of Sikhs In US Army (Enlisted Keshdhari Sikh)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Another Major Step Forward to Full Acceptance of Sikhs in US Army
(Columbia, SC) November 11, 2010 – Another major barrier fell today in the campaign to end the U.S. military’s ban on Sikh service. To great fanfare, Simran Preet Singh Lamba became the first enlisted Sikh soldier in more than two decades to complete basic training while maintaining his turban and unshorn hair.

Enlisted soldiers are the U.S. Army’s “new recruits” who are below the rank of an officer. Over the past,m year two Sikh commissioned officers graduated. All the Sikh graduates were represented by the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and the Sikh Coalition. Amandeep Singh Sidhu, Esq. led the McDermott Will, & Emery team on the case.

“I am thrilled to serve with my fellow soldiers and serve the United States of America,” said Simran Preet Singh Lamba. “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.”

Mr. Lamba was recruited by the Army in 2009 through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program for his language skills in Punjabi and Hindi. His Army recruiter could not guarantee that his Sikh articles of faith would be accommodated. Thus, Lamba filed a formal request for accommodation with the assistance of the Sikh Coalition and McDermott Will & Emery LLP.

Contrary to the concerns of some, Mr. Lamba was able to meet all the requirements of a solider during basic training. He wore a helmet over a small turban during field exercises. During gas mask exercises, he successfully created a seal.

Important Individual Victory But Sikhs Still Generally Excluded from Army

Present Army policy still excludes Sikhs who maintain their turban and beard. Sikhs in the U.S. military may maintain their articles of faith only if they receive an individual exemption to do so.

Nevertheless, the past year has seen welcome progress in the campaign to restore Sikh service in the U.S. military. In March, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, became the first Sikh commissioned officer to complete basic training in more than two decades. In September, Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a physician, became the second Sikh commissioned officer to complete basic training.

Going Forward

It is the intention of the Sikh Coalition to continue its campaign to ensure every Sikh can freely join the U.S. military, if they so choose. Over the coming weeks and months we will continue engaging policymakers and the US military in an effort to end its ban on Sikh military service.



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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Military Times Coverage

Keeping faith: Sikh Soldier graduates basic training

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When Spc. Simranpreet Lamba steps onto Hilton Field today for his graduation from Basic Combat Training, he will recite the same Soldiers' Creed as his fellow graduates, but instead of a beret, he will wear a turban with his uniform; and his face is distinctive by the beard he sports.

Lamba is a Sikh, whose faith requirements include having unshorn hair covered by a turban and keeping a beard. He is the first enlisted Sikh Soldier in at least 26 years who has been granted religious accommodations by the Army, allowing him to adhere to his articles of faith.

For the 26-year-old Lamba, who will also be naturalized as a citizen today, a childhood dream has come true, he said. Lamba explained that Sikhs are depicted in history as warriors.

"I believe that I already have the warrior ethos in me and the warrior blood in me," he said. "That's why it's been my childhood dream to always be in the armed forces. And I'm really happy that my childhood dream came true. And I'm a proud U.S. Army Soldier today."

Lamba said that although he may look different, he is a Soldier like everybody else in his graduating class.
"I'm wearing the same uniform," he said. "There's nothing about my beard and hair that would stop me from excelling as a Soldier. I can do everything all other Soldiers do. I have the same flag on my right arm. I'm doing the same thing, defending the same country."

Lamba, a native of New Delhi, India, came to the United States 3 1/2 years ago to finish his education.

After his January 2009 graduation from New York University with a master's degree in industrial engineering, Lamba decided to stay in the United States and started a career in the private sector. Later that year, two Sikh officers, a doctor and a dentist, were allowed to serve in the Army while wearing a beard, unshorn hair and a turban.

Lamba said he was encouraged by the two Sikhs receiving religious accommodations for their articles of faith, and he decided to pursue a career in the Army. Despite his education, becoming an officer was not an option, because Lamba was not a U.S. citizen at the time, so he enlisted in December 2009. He was recruited under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest recruiting program, which enlists legal non-citizens with critical language skills, such as Lamba's knowledge of Punjabi and Hindi.

He then requested a waiver from the Army to allow him to keep his articles of faith. After a 10-month review, the Army approved Lamba's request on the condition that the religious accommodations will not affect training, unit readiness or cohesion, individual readiness, morale, discipline or safety and health; and as long as proper appearance and guidelines are maintained.

Lamba, who reported for BCT in September, said he spent months exploring options for proper head gear that would satisfy both his religion's and the Army's requirements.

"I did a lot of research - if I'm accommodated what I can do, what things I have to abide by, like the ACU under turban I'm wearing right now, which is ... similar to the patrol cap the (other) Soldiers wear," Lamba said.

Throughout training, Lamba wore an Army Combat Uniform-patterned turban in place of a patrol cap, which fit underneath his Kevlar helmet. In garrison, instead of a beret, Lamba will wear a black turban bearing his unit flash.

Lamba was assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment for Basic Combat Training. Lt. Col. Bryan Hernandez, the battalion's commander, said he prepared himself for Lamba's arrival by educating himself about Sikhism and passed on his knowledge to his cadre. Lamba was given a chance to address his fellow Soldiers on the first day of training to eliminate any possible misconceptions about his appearance, Hernandez said, but after that, he was treated like any other Solider in the battalion.

"We didn't want to make Spc. Lamba stand out early. We wanted him to be able to meld in with the Soldiers just like everybody else," Hernandez said. "I think by us doing that, it set Alpha Company, it set the cadre, it set Spc. Lamba up for success, because we didn't give it a large slew of attention. He was allowed to go through training, just like everybody else."

Lamba did not ask for special privileges, said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hildebrand, a drill sergeant with Co. A, 3-34th.

"He wanted to be treated just like everyone else, and I told him, 'You came to the right platoon, because I treat everyone the same,'" Hildebrand said.

Hernandez confirmed Hildebrand's assessment.

"The key things were that Spc. Lamba had to meet all the Army standards to graduate and do everything else for training, but there were going to be the nuances about the hair, about the beard, and we wanted to make sure it didn't impact any training. But there were no special privileges given to him beside that," Hernandez said. "As far as training, he did everything we expect every Soldier to come out of basic training to do; and he did extremely well through the entire process."

Hildebrand said that throughout his training Lamba has fit in well with the other Soldiers.

"The other Soldiers in the platoon actually love Spc. Lamba," he said. "Their family members have found out that we have a Sikh Soldier, and they have asked if they could write to Spc. Lamba to find out more about where he comes from. There has been no negativity expressed by the Soldiers toward Spc. Lamba."

Lamba's battle buddy, Pfc. Michael Haines, said Lamba had no problem integrating with others in his platoon.

"He has good values ... He has his religious values tied closely into his actions he takes," Haines said. "He's a good person. He does what he's told when he's told. He shows respect to everyone, regardless if they show him respect or not."

After graduating, Lamba will attend Advanced Individual Training as a combat medic at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He said he eventually plans to apply for Officer Candidate School and become a logistics officer. Lamba said that so far, being in the Army has been a good experience.

"It has been really positive. And I'm really proud; and I'm really happy that (the) Army allowed me to serve, that they respected my religious beliefs, my articles of faith," he said. "I'm looking forward to having a long career in the Army."

In the know

-- Sikhism is a monotheistic religion.
-- Sikhism is a relatively young religion, which originated about 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India.
-- Worldwide, more than 25 million people are Sikhs, making it the fifth-largest religion behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
-- Sikh core values include equality of all people, leading a moral life and social justice.
-- Sikhism was founded by 10 gurus (prophets).
-- The five articles of faith are meant to unify Sikhs and bind them to their religion. They are: Kesh (uncut hair, covered by a turban); Kirpan (religious sword); Kara (metal bracelet); Kanga (comb); and Kaccha (undershorts).
Source: www.sikhcoalition.org

Religious accommodations
-- On principle, all Soldiers must adhere to AR 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.
-- Soldiers may appeal to their chain of command to request a waiver for religious accommodations.
-- The Army reviews appeals on a case-by-case basis.
-- The final authority in the appeal process is the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1.



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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
MSNBC Coverage

Army gets first Sikh enlisted soldier since 1980s

FORT JACKSON, South Carolina — The first Sikh to become an enlisted U.S. Army soldier in nearly three decades said Wednesday he's eager to move on to training as a combat medic and defend his new homeland on the battlefield.

Sikhism, a 500-year-old religion founded in India, requires its male followers to wear a turban and beard and keep their hair uncut. Army policies since 1984 had effectively prevented Sikhs from enlisting by barring those items.

But Lamba was granted a rare exception because he has skills the Army wants — the Indian languages Hindi and Punjabi.

Before him, two Sikhs joined the Army as medical officers earlier this year. But Lamba is the first enlisted man since the policy barring religious articles of clothing.

"When the bullets begin flying, it doesn't concern anyone what religion you are. I bleed the same color," said Spec. Simran Lamba, 26, after his graduation ceremony from basic combat training.

Lamba said his black turban, full beard, unshorn hair and religious beliefs posed no problems during his 10 weeks of training.

"I am proud to be a Sikh, I'm proud to be a U.S. citizen, and proud to be a U.S. Army soldier," he said.

During training, he wore a camouflage turban under his Kevlar helmet. He used petroleum jelly to get a tight grip between his beard and gas mask, and was able to keep his hair clean under all conditions, meeting all the military's concerns about training and appearance.

And besides, the Sikhs were founded as a warrior group meant to fight against injustice and inequality, Lamba said, so adopting Army values was easy for him.

"The Sikhs are warriors in Indian culture. Once our soldiers heard that, they were all for him," said Lamba's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bryan Hernandez.

"It's going to be a good thing for our Army and our nation" to have Lamba in the service, Hernandez said. Lamba said he was treated like any other soldier.

The Army installation went to great lengths to educate his fellow soldiers, his commanders and anyone who would come in contact with him in order to make the transition go smoothly, said Maj. Gen. James Milano, Fort Jackson's commander.

"He met all requirements, he went through the training just like everyone else," said Milano.

Two hours before the graduation, Lamba also took his oath of citizenship along with a dozen other soldiers.

The native of New Delhi, India, was granted the honor of carrying a red-white-and-blue unit color flag as the 450 new soldiers paraded in a salute before 3,000 friends and family gathered in the stands.

Donning a uniform allowed him to fulfill a childhood dream of entering the military, Lamba said.

He came to the United States to get a master's degree in industrial engineering at New York University, and thought about enlisting and getting his citizenship. He did some research, and found that the Army's special forces units were allowed to wear beards, so it occurred to him that he might be able to enter the service.

Also, he'd read about a Sikh dentist and a Sikh physician who'd entered the Army recently, and he sought their guidance.

"I thought, why not fight for this country? It doesn't matter that I wasn't born here," Lamba said.

After enlisting, it took a 10-month Army review before the service granted him a waiver.

Lamba got some mentoring in advance of taking his big step, said Capt. Kamal Kalsi, a fellow Sikh and emergency room physician now based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who entered the Army in June.

"We talked a lot before he went in," said Kalsi, a 34-year-old from Riverdale, New Jersey. He said he wanted to come to Lamba's graduation to wish him well.

"Congratulations!" Kalsi said, after giving him a stiff Army salute, then beaming in pride at his colleague.

Lamba said he would have liked to be an officer like Kalsi, but since he wasn't a citizen, could not do so. After his four months of training as a combat medic, Lamba said he hoped one day to apply for officer candidate school.

He's happy to be an example for others to follow, Lamba said.

"I feel I am a soldier. I am not a civilian anymore," he said. "If I can do it, anyone can."



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Bhagat Singh Thind was actually the first keshdhari Sikh to enlist in the US armed forces. His life story is a fascinating one. He was denied US citizenship in the state of California, after serving in WWI. This was later overturned in the federal courts of New York State.


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