In 1981, the U.S. Army banned “conspicuous” religious articles of faith for its service members. However, Sikhs and other soldiers of faith who were part of the army before the 1981 rule change were allowed to stay. The following are stories of six Sikh Americans who have served or continue to serve in the U.S. Army with their turbans and unshorn beards. These six men are living proof that Sikhs can serve in this country’s military without having to compromise their faith.
Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, an emergency medicine doctor, was granted a religious accommodation by the U.S. Army in October 2009. Following completion of a fellowship in disaster response medicine, Captain Kalsi began the Officer Basic Course (“OBC”) at Fort Sam Houston in July 2010. He has been well received by base leadership and fellow soldiers. He was given a Company Commander position based upon demonstrated leadership within his OBC class. Captain Kalsi will be graduating from OBC in September 2010. Afterward, he will serve as an emergency medicine doctor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, was granted a religious accommodation by the U.S. Army in December 2009. In March 2010, Captain Rattan successfully completed Army basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Captain Rattan was the first turbaned Sikh officer to complete basic training in over two decades. While at Fort Sam Houston, Captain Rattan was uniformly praised for his leadership and pride as a soldier. Reflecting on Captain Rattan’s achievement, Captain John Lopez at Fort Sam Houston said: “From Day one, Captain Rattan has been an ideal individual . . . I wish some other Soldiers had the personal pride and willingness to go the extra mile as he does, so those young Soldiers have someone to look up to. ” Captain Rattan began serving as an Army dentist at Fort Drum in May 2010. He was appointed Detachment Commander in command of the detachment of U.S. Army Dental Activity at Fort Drum in July 2010.
Bhagat Singh Thind
was recruited on July 22, 1918 by the US Army to fight in World War I. Months later, Bhagat Singh, a turban wearing Sikh, was promoted to the rank of an Acting Sergeant. Although Sikhs at that time were officially referred to as "Hindoo," Bhagat Singh kept all articles of his faith, competently completing all duties of a soldier. Bhagat Singh received an honorable discharge on December 16th, 1918 with a character designation of "excellent."
Colonel Gopal Singh Khalsa
joined the U.S. Army in 1976 as a Private, and served in the Special Forces Unit for 10 years on Parachute Status, as a Battalion Commander overseeing an 800-person intelligence group, and also received a Meritorious Service Medal with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster Award, amongst many other honors. He is a graduate of the Army Officer Candidate School in Georgia, and was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame in 2004. Colonel Khalsa currently remains in the reserve command, and has therefore served in the U.S. Army for 33 years.
Colonel Arjinderpal Singh Sekhon
a medical doctor, served in the army from 1984 to 2009. During his 25 years of commissioned service, Colonel Sekhon was stationed in multiple cities around the country. During the First Persian Gulf War, he was called to active duty and served stateside as a doctor at the United States Army Hospital in California. He rose through the ranks to Colonel and was given a Battalion Commander position through which he oversaw a unit of 600-700 soldiers. Before ending his career, he was decorated with various awards including a Presidential Unit Citation, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and an Army Flight Surgeon Badge. During his time of service, Colonel Sekhon’s articles of faith never impeded his success. His Sikh identity never interfered with his ability to create strong relationships with his fellow service members.
Sergeant Sevak Singh Kroesen
enlisted in the U.S. Army reserves in 1976 and was attached to the Signal Company, 11th Special Forces Group after which he successfully completed airborne (paratrooper) and Radio Teletype Transmission Operator training. He then completed his Special Forces Qualification Courses and became a Special Forces Communications Sergeant. He completed this rigorous training, and his Sikh articles of faith were never a hindrance to his service. Sergeant Kroesen subsequently completed schools, training, and missions around the world all with honor and distinction. He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1991.
Army Sergeant Kirnbir Grewal
served in the U.S. Army from 1977-1984. He entered the Army as a Private and left at the E6 level as a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Non-Commissioned Officer (Staff Sergeant). During his tenure, his Sikh articles of faith were never an issue. While in Germany, he taught companies how to survive a nuclear and biological warfare attack using protective gear.