Community Acts: Army Responds

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(New York, New York) June 2, 2009 – In a significant development in our campaign to end the exclusion of Sikhs from the U.S. Military, the Army has written to the SikhCoalition stating that “senior leadership” is aware of Sikhcommunity concerns. The letter also acknowledges “the importance of reviewing the rationale behind our current policies when circumstances warrant.”

A Welcome Development

The Army communicated with the Coalition via a letter from Major General John R. Hawkins III to the Sikh Coalition’s Executive Director. The letter states that the Army’s Human Resources Policy Directorate is currently gathering information “to assist our leadership in making an informed decision” about the cases of Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi andCaptain Tejdeep Singh Rattan.

The Sikh Coalition welcomes the Army’s commitment to reexamine policies that effectively exclude Sikhs from service. We believe that once the Army fully reviews the policy, it will agree that Sikh practices have in no way acted as an impediment to succesful service in any military in the world.

Background

On January 26th, the Sikh Coalition sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding two Sikhs who have been told they would have to give up their Sikh religious practices in order to continue their service in the United States Army.

Cpts. Kalsi and Rattan were recrupart of an Army program that pays for medical education in return for military service. At the time of their enrollment, military recruiters assured both men that their turbans and unshorn hair “would not be a problem.”

Cpts. Kalsi and Rattan maintained their Sikh identity throughout graduate school, during specialized Army training, at Army ceremonies, and in Army medical facilities. Four years later, the Army is now telling the two Sikhs that the recruiters’ assurances were false and that they will have to forsake their religious practices.

What’s at Stake and Next Steps

The Secretary of Defense’s response letter gives us hope that the United States Army is open to reviewing whether the Sikh articles of faith truly hinder one from ably serving in the Army.

The Coalition will respond to the Army’s letter with recent information gathered from Sikhs who served or are currently serving in the US Military with their articles of faith intact. Various community members have kindly shared their stories of how their turbans and beards did not pose safety problems or threaten group cohesion in the line of duty.

If you have a similar story or know of someone who has served, please contact us. The more evidence we can gather, the stronger claim we can make to support the “Sikh Right to Serve.

In addition to information gathering, the Coalition is also currently working with Members of Congress to garner their assistance in persuading the Army to end their policy of Sikhexclusion.

We would like to thank the community for supporting this campaign by signing the Army petition and giving financial support. Your support has reminded our government officials to remain accountable to Sikh community concerns. Your continued support is invaluable to ensuring our right to practice our faith is protected in all segments of American life.

As always, the Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly. If someone tell you to remove your articles of faith, please report the incident.