Sikhs in the U.S. Military

altIn 1981, the U.S. Army banned “conspicuous” 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 Sikh Americans who have served or continue to serve in the U.S. Army with their turbans and unshorn beards. These men are living proof that Sikhs can serve in this country’s military without having to compromise their faith.

 

 

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, an emergency medicine doctor, was granted a historic religious accommodation by the U.S. Army in October 2009 to maintain his religiously-mandated turban and beard.. After returning from Afghanistan, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal in honor of his combat service. He now serves in Fort Bragg as the Medical Director of the Department of Defense’s largest state-side Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system.

Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan

Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, was granted a historic religious accommodation by the U.S. Army to maintain his Sikh turban and beard in December 2009. Captain Rattan was the first turbaned Sikh officer to complete basic training in over two decades. Captain Rattan began serving as an Army dentist at Fort Drum in May 2010. He was appointed Detachment Commander of U.S. Army Dental Activity at Fort Drum in July 2010. Captain Rattan also served in Afghanistan and received an Army Commendation Medal and a NATO Medal for his service.

Specialist Simran Preet Singh Lamba

Specialist Simran Preet Singh Lamba was granted a religious accommodation by the U.S. Army in September 2010. Specialist Lamba was recruited for his special language skills in Hindi and Punjabi through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. He is the first and only turbaned Sikh enlisted soldier to be accommodated in over 30 years. “I am grateful to Army leadership for allowing me to serve America,” said Specialist Lamba. “There is nothing about my Sikh religious beliefs that prevents me from excelling as a soldier. I look forward to serving this great country with honor.”

Bhagat Singh Thind

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 of his articles of faith, competently completing all duties of a soldier. Bhagat Singh received an honorable discharge on December 16, 1918 with a character designation of "excellent."

Colonel Gopal Singh Khalsa

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 he oversaw 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

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.

Colonel G.B. Singh

Colonel G.B. Singh enlisted as a dentist in the U.S. Army in 1979 and served until 2007. During his 28 year tenure, he was awarded several honors including the (A) Prefix, the highest award a medical professional can receive while in the U.S. Army. Colonel Singh was stationed in several areas in the U.S. as well as in Korea. Colonel Singh recalls the camaraderie and life-lasting bonds he forged with the members of his unit. He remains in contact with many of them. His articles of faith never precluded him from creating strong relationships within the Army, and his superiors never treated him differently.

Sergeant Sevak Singh Kroesen

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 trainings and missions around the world all with honor and distinction. He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1991.

Sergeant Kirnbir Grewal

Sergeant Kirinbir 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 nuclear and biological warfare attacks using protective gear.

Major Parbhur Singh Brar

Major Parbhur Singh Brar is an ophthalmologist who served in the U.S. Army from December 1978 to October 1981. He was commissioned as a Reserve Officer, but then moved to Active Duty and was stationed at Ft. Eustis in Newport News, Virginia. Major Brar’s Sikh articles of faith never stopped him from performing his duties, nor did they preclude him from creating strong relationships with his unit or supervisors during his tenure with the Army.
 

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